Preserving Family Bonds During Incarceration
The 2021 Family Unity Bill recognizes that frequent contact through visits and phone calls preserves family bonds during incarceration, providing family structure for the children and spouses left behind, supporting the mental health of the incarcerated, and reducing recidivism after incarcerated people reenter our communities.
In 2009, the California Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 20, which encouraged the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to use the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (SFCIPP) Bill of Rights (en español) as a framework for providing services to children of incarcerated parents. The rights include the right to a lifelong relationship with their incarcerated parents, and the right to speak with, see, and touch their parents.
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• Visits are treated as a privilege rather than a right and can be denied for disciplinary reasons unrelated to visiting or for simple mistakes on paperwork.
• Family members can be excluded based on arrest or conviction histories unrelated to visiting security, which further divides families who live in communities that are heavily policed and impacted by mass incarceration.
• Visits can be very expensive and time-consuming, as many people in California are incarcerated hundreds of miles from their homes.
• After taking the long, costly trip to visit a loved one, visitors often face long waiting times that use up limited visiting hours, or are turned away or removed for petty reasons such as wearing a V-neck shirt, having inadequate documentation, or holding hands too long.
• Screening process can be disrespectful and intimidating to children, such as contraband searches of minors and strip searches of women by correctional staff.
• Family members of loved ones who get seriously sick in custody, including those who have died of COVID, often receive no notice or opportunity to call or visit.
• Phone and video calling access is limited and has historically been grossly overpriced. While CDCR recently took steps to increase such access and reduce costs, those gains need to be guaranteed by law with a commitment that they supplement rather than supplant in-person visiting.
• Restore the right to receive personal visits to the Prisoners’ Bill of Rights (Penal Code 2600-2601)
• Establish a right to visit incarcerated people that can be denied only for serious abuse of visiting access, inadequate identification, or lack of consent by the incarcerated person
• Specifically prohibit denying visits for these reasons:
➝ Discipline against the incarcerated person unrelated to visiting
➝ An incarcerated person’s restricted housing status
➝ Omissions or inaccuracies on a visiting application if the information is disclosed on a criminal background report.
➝ A visitor’s or incarcerated person’s criminal history unrelated to visiting
• Make visits and phone and video calls available every day from 8 am to 8 pm free of charge.
• Provide tablets or cellphones to all incarcerated people and allow calls to approved visitors and callers and legal information sources.
• Provide for emergency calls and visits to incarcerated people who become seriously ill.
• Whenever in-persons visits cannot be provided due to a public health emergency or natural disaster, guarantee that video calls will be provided free of charge.
• Make screening procedures more respectful:
➝ Provide for screening of minors by social workers
➝ Provide for strip searches by medical staff
➝ Ensure property searches are conducted in the presence of the visitor
• Make visiting more predictable and less likely to be terminated or cancelled:
➝ Prevent guards from enforcing rules not included in prison regulations
➝ Limit the reasons a visit can be terminated to lack of government identification or documentation unless waived; wearing clothes used by guards or incarcerated people; wearing sexually revealing clothing; disrupting visits or engaging in excessive touching or sexual conduct; and refusing to comply with lawful search.
➝ Prohibit visits from being terminated for holding hands, letting children sit on laps, or touching backs or hair.
➝ Prohibit cancellations of visits for computer maintenance, sting operations
➝ Provide accommodations and add visiting hours if visits are cancelled without prior notice.
• Make visiting rules enforceable
➝ Contract with a community based organization to provide visitor and caller liaisons during visiting and video calling hours to enforce visiting rights
➝ Contract with a community based organization to appoint people to a visitor and caller review committee to review denials of visitor and caller applications
➝ Provide for judicial review of noncompliance with visiting rules
• Provide transportation assistance to family members when incarcerated people are located in distant facilities
2021 Family Unity Bill Author:
Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-18)
2021 Family Unity Bill Sponsors:
Coalition for Family Unity
A New Way of Life
All of Us or None
The Bail Project
California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC)
California Families Rise
California’s Impacted Families Project
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ)
Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE)
East Bay Family Defenders
Essie Justice Group
Fathers & Families of San Joaquin
Felony Murder Elimination Project
Families United to End LWOP (FUEL)
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Pride in Truth
Prison From-TheInside-Out Inc.
Root & Rebound
Silicon Valley DeBug
Starting Over, Inc.
Young Women’s Freedom Center
Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC)
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP)
Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc. (LADL)