CORRECTIONS TV maintains the ties that bind
Technology bridges gap between inmates, relatives.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- A church-run program is helping to maintain family ties for inmates at a women's prison too far for some relatives to visit and too disturbing for others when they see a loved one behind bars.
The Cleveland Eastside Ecumenical Consortium, a religious group that runs social service programs, uses technology to bridge the 150 miles between Marysville and Cleveland.
A family sits in front of a television screen in Cleveland and, in Marysville, an inmate sits in front of a television screen and they reconnect.
Relying on equipment similar to that used for teleconferences and distance learning, inmates and families can hear and see each other.
The televisits represent a welcome opportunity for Valesica Mauldin, who had been considering preventing her 4-year-old granddaughter from visiting the girl's mother at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville as too wrenching.
"She would cry and cry," said Mauldin, who has custody of her granddaughter.
"She couldn't sleep because of the nightmares."
The consortium started Project IMPACT, or Incarcerated Mothers, Parents And Children's Televisitation Program, in September and has overseen more than 50 televisits. More families are ready to participate, said Carol Gates, who heads the consortium.
Marysville, where more than 16 percent of the 1,900 inmates are from Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, is the only prison participating, but Gates hopes to expand the program to all state prisons.
Gates said the cost of running the program, including buying the equipment, has been about $225,000. Grants from the Cleveland Foundation and the Cuyahoga County commissioners covered the costs, she said.
Gates got the idea during trips to Marysville her group sponsored for families of inmates. Many inmates said they hadn't seen their families in months.
The family members said they hadn't visited because they didn't have cars or couldn't afford the $30 to $45 roundtrip fare with van companies.
Others found prison visits so traumatic that they feared going back.
"The offender isn't the only one doing time," said Gates, a retired parole supervisor.
"The grandparents or guardians and the children are doing time by default."
A mother in prison disrupts a family, said Wheeler Winstead, a consortium consultant.
"For the child and the parent, there are often issues of abandonment," he said.
"The child begins to act out. The parent engages in negative behaviors. It has been documented that increased contact is the most effective way to address the separation and abandonment issues."
Most inmates want to see their families so badly that the visits serve as an incentive to obey prison rules, said Patricia Andrews, the warden at Marysville. Prison staff members must approve and monitor televisits, but the visits are less labor-intensive because friends and family members don't have to pass through security.
Inmate Vanessa Buffington cherishes her weekly televisits with Barbara Palmour, her former sister-in-law. Before the program, she said she got only two visits a year.