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Gov. Brown vetoes bill that prevents California jails from eliminating in-person visitation for children and families

September 30, 2016

by Zaineb Mohammed

Sacramento – On Sept. 27, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1157, which would have protected in-person visitation in California’s county jails, saying in his veto message that although he was concerned about eliminating in-person visitation, the bill didn’t offer enough flexibility.

A little girl reaches out to touch her daddy but feels only a video screen. – Photo: Jerry Larson, Waco Tribune

A little girl reaches out to touch her daddy but feels only a video screen. – Photo: Jerry Larson, Waco Tribune

The lack of a signature ensures that sheriffs can now continue eliminating in-person visitation for children and families of the incarcerated and replace it with video calls.

“I’m saddened by the fact that while the governor expressed concern about the lack of in-person visits with family negatively impacting rehabilitative goals, he fell woefully short of protecting a basic human right,” said Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of the measure.

At least 18 counties in California have eliminated, plan to eliminate or severely restrict in-person visitation in at least one of their jails.

SB 1157 would have prohibited California jails from eliminating in-person visitation rights when they adopt video visitation technology, by clarifying that video technology cannot be used to replace in-person visits.

“I’m saddened by the fact that while the governor expressed concern about the lack of in-person visits with family negatively impacting rehabilitative goals, he fell woefully short of protecting a basic human right,” said Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of the measure.

Families with members in jails must pay for video calls from home or travel to the jail to video call their incarcerated family member. In the latter situation, both the visitor and the incarcerated person are in the same building, but instead of having a real visit, they can only see each other through a video screen.

Even when family members travel to these jails to “visit” their loved ones through a video screen, equipment often malfunctions, leaving them unable to see their loved ones at all.

The bill reached Gov. Brown’s desk earlier this month after passing the California Senate and Assembly with strong bipartisan support.

Mike Cortez, who used to visit his incarcerated brother until the jail eliminated in-person visitation, says the veto will severely impact his relationship with his brother. “I am devastated,” he said.

“This is horrible news for families of incarcerated people. We’re human beings. We need to have a connection with our family members. Seeing each other in-person helps us support and love each other, and be there for each other.”

Research shows that eliminating in-person visitation has a drastic and negative impact on families, particularly children. A 2014 Department of Justice report found that when a person is incarcerated, even for a short period of time, family contact and in-person visits are crucial to maintaining family stability, reducing disciplinary infractions and violence, reducing recidivism, increasing the chances of obtaining employment post-release and facilitating successful re-entry into their communities.

“This is horrible news for families of incarcerated people. We’re human beings. We need to have a connection with our family members. Seeing each other in-person helps us support and love each other, and be there for each other.”

“My heart is so heavy right now,” said Zoevina Pariani-Delgado, who has visited incarcerated family members and received visits from her children while incarcerated herself.

“Visitation had such a big impact on my re-entry and on my family. Real visits allowed me to stay connected with my children. My daughter, who was at the time 10 years old, touching my hand to the glass and feeling her tiny hands up against mine, gave me hope and purpose and allowed me to parent from the inside. But we are going to keep fighting. This is just one more bump in the road.”

Zaineb Mohammed, communications director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, can be reached at zaineb@ellabakercenter.org, 510-428-3939, ext. 236, or by writing to the Ella Baker Center, 1970 Broadway, Suite 1125, Oakland, CA 94612.

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