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During FY 2010-2011, Friends Outside provided services to 145,307 adult and child visitors in California prisons.
Friends Outside provides services and support to visitors at each California State prison. Funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under a legislative mandate, the primary purpose of the Visitor Centers is to remove barriers and facilitate family visiting. Friends Outside staff provide a welcoming environment that encourages successful family visits and support s eventual family and community unification. In the Visitor Centers, families feel part of a supportive community while they wait to see and visit with their loved one. These visits are very important to incarcerated family members, and help motivate a desire for positive change.
Visits provide a way for a family to stay connected. Incarcerated parents have the opportunity to support the parent/child relationship and children get to experience much needed contact with their Mother or Father. Visitor Centers are located outside the prison walls but on prison grounds, and usually are adjacent to the visitor parking lots. Visitor Centers provide childcare, transportation, appropriate clothing, information and resources, and a restful and welcoming place to stop for a moment before and after visits. They are open during regularly scheduled visiting hours and on designated holidays.
Children’s Activities: Childcare is available for children up to17 years who accompany their caregiver to the institution for visiting. Sometimes children are not able to sustain a lengthy visit or they do not have appropriate identification to enter the prison visiting area. In some cases, children may decide that they do not want to visit after they arrive at the prison. Temporary, short-term childcare allows the caregiver to continue their visit. Age-appropriate activities, such as the Write to Me program, and snacks are offered to all children to help reduce anxieties and teach coping skills that will last a lifetime.
In the state’s prison Visitor Centers, Friends Outside’s Write to Me program encourages children to write letters to their incarcerated parent and thereby support ongoing parent-child contact which helps to relieve the child’s sense of isolation. Age-appropriate writing kits are provided to children, and an experienced Friends Outside caregiver guides them through the letter writing process. The letters may be written at the Visitor Center or the kit can take home to encourage letter writing after a visit to an incarcerated parent. These letters are also highly appreciated by the parents, offering hope and motivation for change.
Visitors often need a place to rest and renew after a long trip from their home to a prison, or to prepare themselves for the trip home after the visit is over. Visitor Centers offer a comfortable, welcoming place of respite. Centers offer comfortable seating areas, restrooms, children’s toys, changing tables for babies and a well-trained, understanding staff.
Clothing: Sometimes visitors arrive at the prison dressed in clothing that violates institutional rules for visitor attire. Visitor Centers loan appropriate clothing, ensuring that the visit can still take place and that the visitors feel comfortable. Clothing is available for men, women and children in a wide range of sizes.
Transportation: Passenger van transportation between the institution and local public transportation terminals is provided for visitors, who may arrive at a transit station located some distance from the prison. Friends Outside drivers both pick up and deliver visitors. Sometimes the ride provides an opportunity for visitors to connect with others experiencing similar situations.
Resources and Information: Visitors may need directions, information about local restaurants or motels, or public transportation schedules. Families may also be in need of emergency assistance such as shelters, food banks and social services. Friends Outside staff offer support and assistance.
Information regarding visiting rules and regulations: State prison rules and regulations can be confusing and intimidating. Friends Outside’s Visitor Center staffs are available to explain regulations and help visitors to comply.