A class-action suit is bringing change to a Philadelphia corrections facility which once barred incarcerated fathers from spending time alone with their minor children.
“When you’re far away from someone and can’t visit, it puts a strain on everything,” said Dayna Walter, partner of a jailed man and mother of his two-year old child.
“You rely a lot on love and hope to get you through,” she said. “You keep pictures around of him so his son can see his and recognize when he’s talking on the phone.”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, her son’s father, Keith Campbell, had been prevented from spending time with his toddler. The restrictive policy was being enforced by the city’s Federal Detention Center, where Campbell has spent the last year awaiting trial. Under its purview, minor children aren’t allowed to meet with inmates unattended – also excluded are visitors who aren’t part of a detainee’s immediate family.
Because Walter and Campbell aren’t currently married, there was nobody available to reunite the father with his very young son.
Starting April 30th, writes the Inquirer, that policy will change – thanks largely to an advance in settlement negotiations ‘in a class-action lawsuit in which Campbell is a lead plaintiff.’ The new rule, writes the paper, entitles each pretrial inmate to receive one visitor who isn’t an immediate family member.
“For a large number of inmates, this will resolve the problem,” said Benjamin Geffen, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center.
Court filings indicate that approximately 100 inmates at the Federal Detention Center were kept from seeing their kids under the pre-class-action policy. Nevertheless, says Geffen, some detainees may still be prevented from catching up with their minor children.
“We remain concerned that some pretrial inmates may still have trouble visiting with their children,” said Geffen. “For instance, some inmates have children by more than one parent. This is hardly unheard of in 21st-century America: even the president has five children by three different women.”
Other attorneys working with the Public Interest Law Center have argued that maintaining lenient visitation policies is essential to inmate rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.
“Inmates who maintain relationships with their children and their communities are much more successful at reintegrating after release,” said attorney Dana Bazelon, who represents some of the class-action’s plaintiffs. “But the FDC’s unconstitutional and nonsensical policy instead forces inmates to be further isolated from their loved ones. This isn’t just cruel: it makes it more likely that the inmates will wind up back in jail after they’re released.”
The Federal Detention Center continues to have among the strictest visitation policies in the United States. Facility officials say the rules were enacted to combat the unprecedented and drastic flow of illegal narcotics into the jail.
But as Geffen notes, the punishment may be too harsh and too soon – it applied only to inmates still awaiting trial.
“The policy was one of the strictest in the entire country,” siad Geffen. “It applied only to people who enjoyed the presumption of innocence.”