SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Center for Restorative Justice Works (CRJW) are again bringing together hundreds of children to visit their incarcerated parents to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day during the 15th annual Get On The Bus (GOTB) events.
“Having a parent in prison can be difficult for young children,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “CDCR recognizes the power in maintaining and strengthening family bonds and is proud to partner with the Center for Restorative Justice Works and Get On The Bus.”
Thirty buses filled with more than 1,000 children and their caregivers will make the journey from San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, the Central Valley, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Rosa in May and June.
The first special visiting events were held Saturday at Folsom Women’s Facility and California Institution for Women in Chowchilla. The final Mother’s Day event will be held
May 9 at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
“Last year, Get On The Bus united more than 1,000 children with their mother or father,” said GOTB Director Hilary Carson. “This year, we plan to do more.”
GOTB events will also be held at male institutions in honor of Father’s Day. Those events will be held:
- May 9 at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla
- May 31 at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo
- June 6 at San Quentin State Prison
- June 14 at Correctional Training Facility in Soledad
- June 14 at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad
In addition, two summer GOTB events have been added this year. On July 26, GOTB will take place at Folsom State Prison and California State Prison, Sacramento.
For many children of incarcerated parents, the GOTB event is the only time they will see their mother or father.
GOTB provides travel bags for the children, comfort care bags for the caregivers, a photograph of each child with his or her mother and meals for the day. On the bus trip home, each child receives a teddy bear with a letter from his or her parent, as well as post-event counseling.
The program is funded by donations from faith-based organizations, schools, family foundations, grants and other organizations. Out of this effort, CDCR has funded its own transportation program, which continues to reunite children with their families throughout the year. The Chowchilla and Folsom Family Express provide free transportation for approved visitors to visit their loved ones at Folsom Women’s Facility and Central California Women’s Facility.
Visiting a family member or friend who is in prison is an important way to maintain connections during incarceration and enhances the prisoner’s success both while in prison and after release. National Institute of Corrections research shows that children who have regular parent visits demonstrate better emotional and social adjustment, as well as a lower degree of juvenile delinquency. In addition, their incarcerated parents demonstrate lower rates of recidivism and higher rates of family reunification when released.
“This program exists specifically for children,” said Get On The Bus founder and Executive Director Sister Suzanne Jabro. “They are the hidden victims who are suffering, especially in these stressful economic times, when families do not have the extra funds to visit.”
“After 15 years, it is amazing how many of the children are meeting their father or mother for the first time,” added Jabro, who has spearheaded the event for years. “How many of them, even if they’re older, are looking at this dad or mom to see themselves reflected. Do they have the same color eyes or the same mannerisms? It’s an identity issue – it’s critical to their life as a person to know their parent.”