The role of incarcerated parent can be a difficult and challenging experience to navigate, therefore the information provided here is intended for those who are facing a prison sentence, as well as for those who are returning home. Our hope is to provide resources and details that may make the processes associated with your experience somewhat easier for you and your loved ones during this time of separation.
Click “How to Prepare” or “While in Prison” to find questions and answers relevant to your interest. You can also view the “Resources” section for additional information.
How to Prepare
If you have the means (i.e., health insurance or money), have a physical with a doctor. Tell them that you are about to go to prison and ask if there are any vaccines that they can give you to prevent you from contracting an infectious disease while incarcerated. If you take any prescribed medications, get a letter from your doctor, on letterhead, listing those current prescriptions to bring with you when you begin your sentence.
This may depend on how long you think you will be in prison for. You will want a phone when you return home so if it is a short sentence, you may want to keep your service active and leave your phone with a trusted friend or relative (girlfriends/boyfriends are not necessarily the best option) for safekeeping. The downside of that is the monthly fee your service plan requires you to pay. Talk to your service carrier (Verizon, AT & T, Sprint, etc.) to see if they can put a temporary hold on your phone and your service to reduce or eliminate the cost without violating your contract or losing your phone number.
What you tell them may depend on the relationship you have with your landlord. If you are able to, add another adult to the lease that can cover payments during your absence. If you have the capacity and are facing a short sentence, you can ask your landlord if they will allow you to pay your rent in advance for the months that you expect to be incarcerated. If you do not have the ability to set-up payments in your absence and/or your sentence is not short, it is important to leave your rental agreement on good terms so you can get a recommendation from the landlord now that can help you to secure a new lease when you return.
What you tell your employer may depend on the relationship that you have with your them, the length of your employment, and anticipated length of your sentence. If you plan to leave with the hopes of returning to that job, discuss with your employer a short-term leave of absence. If you plan to leave without the expectation of returning to that position, you can resign from your job on good terms with the employer, so you can secure a letter of recommendation from your supervisor before your last day. This letter will be very helpful when seeking new employment upon your return.
This is your decision. Your first reaction may be to protect your family and friends by not telling them, or others, the truth (or to tell them only part of the truth). But be aware that people can find out the truth because your conviction and incarceration are public record and can be found on the Internet at http://www.jud.ct.gov/crim.htm. People may also learn the truth from others – by overhearing a conversation or because someone else decides to tell them. Every family must decide for themselves what the best thing to do is, and this could depend on the relationships you have with those you are considering telling. You may want to consider the likelihood that they will find out on their own and the potential harm, or benefit, that may come from their knowing. The benefit that you and your family can receive through the support of others during your incarceration, and after your reentry to the community, can be what gets you and your family through this time. However, the treatment some families receive from people who negatively judge criminal justice involved people, and those that love them, can add stress to the already difficult time. Because of this, it is important for those with personal experience with incarceration to support others during their incarceration experience. It is a difficult decision to make. If you decide to tell family, friends and neighbors, your explanation could focus on strengths such as honesty, responsibility, and your desire/efforts for self-improvement.
This depends on the length of your sentence and your financial situation. You will likely want a vehicle when you return home so, if you are able to leave your car with a trusted friend or family member, that is best. You can also cancel your car insurance or ideally, reduce your insurance coverage to only include liability. This will significantly reduce the cost while still protecting your investment from unexpected damage. You may also want to consider selling your vehicle so you can use those funds for commissary, legal fees, or to pay other bills while you are away.
Identification such as driver’s license, non-driver ID, birth certificate and social security card can be left with trusted family members for safe-keeping. If this is not an option or you come to the facility with your identifications on you, all official forms of identification will be logged in Property and kept in a secured location at the facility. If you transfer from one facility to another, the property (including identification) will be sent to the new facility. Upon discharge, the facility will return your identification items to you. If at discharge you do not receive the identification that you came in with, please contact Counselor Adam Mack at 860-692-7564 or Adam.Mack@ct.gov.
If you have a short sentence, make sure you have a plan for your pets. Animal neglect is a criminal offense, and your pets trust you to ensure that they are cared for. The best option for your pets is to leave them with trusted family or friends. If you will want your pet upon your return make sure they understand your intent. If that is not an option, your local no-kill shelter will accept and try to place your pets in a loving adoptive home. For a listing of no-kill shelters in Connecticut go here: http://www.nokillnetwork.org/d/Connecticut/.
Prior to beginning your sentence, watch the mail that comes for you. Anything that is unnecessary, you should cancel. Magazine and newspaper subscriptions can be redirected to you in prison, but the facility where you will be, as well as your prison number, will not be known in advance, so you cannot change the mailing address yet. However, if you have never been incarcerated before, your prison number will be the same as it was during your previous incarceration. Ask a trusted loved one to change the mailing address for each magazine and newspaper for you once your mailing information (inmate number and facility) has been determined. If you are financially able to maintain the subscription, you will be grateful to receive magazines and newspapers!
This depends on your financial situation and expected length of your sentence. Ideally, you either pay bills in advance or leave money to a trusted friend or family member to pay those bills for you while you are away. If you have the financial means, you may be able to hire a conservator, or attorney, to pay your bills in your absence. Similar to your mail, review the bills you are responsible for before beginning your sentence. Consider canceling any unnecessary bills (gym membership, utilities for your home if you live alone, etc.). If you have student loan debt, contact your lender to ask if you qualify for deferment or forbearance during your incarceration. It is important, when able, to not default on payments of debts. If you are able to avoid accruing additional debt, or default on repaying existing debt during your incarceration, your credit could actually improve while you are serving your sentence. While incarcerated, any bad credit reports will be moving further back in your history and, the longer you go without adding new debt the better your credit will be.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments generally are not payable for months that you are confined to a jail, prison or certain other public institutions for commission of a crime. You are also not automatically eligible for Social Security or SSI payments when you return. Additional information can be found at: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10133.pdf.
If you have a child support order and will be going to prison, you can apply to have your order changed due to your inability to pay while incarcerated. However, if you do nothing, you can end up owing a lot of money in unpaid child support. Call Connecticut Support Enforcement Services at 1-800-228-KIDS to ask for Review and Adjustment services to start the process for modification of your child support order amount. However, you should be aware that, in Connecticut, the court will not reduce a child support order for someone that is incarcerated for a crime against the child or the custodial parent. You are expected to pay your child support as soon as you begin earning money. For more information, review this brochure from Connecticut Support Enforcement Services: http://www.ct.gov/doc/lib/doc/pdf/childsupportinfo.pdf
Money – Any cash will be taken from you and placed in your inmate account. It may then be used to purchase items from commissary. If you are able to, you will want to bring money for commissary. You will likely need to purchase clothing that fits (undergarments, uniforms, and shoe laces for the shoes you come in with), items for writing letters (envelopes, paper, pencils and stamps), a radio to hear the TV in the common room, toiletry/hygiene items, as well as any pleasure items such as food, a personal TV, additional clothing, specialty cards to send loved ones, etc. It will take time for the facility to offer you the option of making a purchase through commissary and then additional time for you to receive your purchases. To prevent further delay, it will be helpful to have money in your account as soon as possible so that when the opportunity arises, you are able to submit your order.
- Clothing – The clothing you are wearing upon admission will be exchanged for a uniform. Underwear, bedding and towels will also be provided.
- Shoes – You may be able to keep the shoes you came in with if they are determined to be suitable. Sneakers or shoes must be black, white, or black and white. Shoes and boots can not contain any metal support structure. The laces of shoes will be taken by staff when you arrive so you will need to order laces from commissary once you are able to.
- Eyeglasses – You will be allowed to retain your eyeglasses if they meet safety and security requirements. People who wear contact lenses will be allowed to retain them until they can be seen by an Optometrist, who will determine if there is a medical need for the contacts, or if glasses can be ordered. Health services staff will provide cleaning/soaking solution and a container for prescribed contact lenses.
- Hygiene items – These will initially be provided for you and will continue to be provided if you are unable to purchase your own from commissary. Otherwise, you will be required to purchase them from commissary.
- Medication – Any medication in your possession will be taken upon your arrival. Upon admission, everyone receives a medical screening. Appropriate medication will then be provided. You may bring a letter from a doctor, on letterhead, listing any current prescriptions. Please remember that all incoming property is subject to inspection and rejection. For more information, please review DOC Administrative Directive 10.6
You will not know where you will be housed until you arrive and, even then, you can be moved to another facility at any time - usually without prior notice. You will be placed in a facility that is appropriate for the Security Level assigned to you by the DOC. The Security Level is determined through classification. Classification is a system to match the individual characteristics of a person that is incarcerated to the appropriate facility and programs, based on the person’s assessed risk and treatment requirements, to ensure their safety and the safety of the public. A classification determination involves a review of many factors, including your treatment needs, criminal history, length of sentence, history of violence, escape history, pending court cases and gang affiliation. Security Levels range from 1 to 5. The higher the number, the higher the Security Level. For example, Level 1 refers to community supervision (you might live at home, but under the supervision of a Parole Officer, or in a work release program – there are other forms of community supervision, too), Level 2 is minimum security while confined in a correctional facility, Level 3 is medium security, Level 4 is high security and Level 5 is maximum security. To see the security levels of different Connecticut facilities go to https://www.cga.ct.gov/pri/archives/2000fireportchap2.htm and http://www.ct.gov/doc/cwp/view.asp?a=1502&q=265422 and select the appropriate facility. Keep in mind, a facility may house people that share the Security Level of the facility as well as people assigned a Security Level lower than the one assigned to the facility. For example, you could be assigned a Security Level of 2, minimum security, and be placed at Brooklyn Correctional Institution, a level 3 facility. However, you could not be assigned a Security Level of 4 and be placed at Brooklyn. Over time, most incarcerated people have the opportunity to have their levels lowered based on good behavior. A level reduction is not a guarantee, though. An incarcerated person can be denied a level reduction due to poor behavior while incarcerated, gang affiliation, criminal history, or other issues. Those who are incarcerated meet regularly with their Classification Counselors and are given a date that they are eligible for a Security Level reduction. If you have displayed good behavior and engaged in suggested programming during your incarceration, then you may have a better chance for a level reduction. The lower the Security Level, the greater the privileges and opportunities for community release. Correctional staff cannot discuss an incarcerated person’s level. This information is confidential and private. You, however, can share this information if you choose to do so.
While in Prison
As you prepare to serve your sentence, begin memorizing important phone numbers! Especially the phone numbers for your child(ren), their caregiver, your parents, siblings, your attorney, your DCF worker (if you have one), and any other loved ones you may want to call during your sentence. You will not be able to receive telephone calls; however, telephones are available to you to place outgoing collect calls or calls that are billed through Securus. When you arrive, you will create a calling list that contains up to ten telephone numbers. Facility staff will review the numbers on the list to make sure that none are restricted. Restricted phone numbers include, but are not limited to, the telephone numbers of victims of the crime of which you have been convicted, or telephone numbers of any other individuals that have been prohibited by the Unit Administrator. To submit the phone list and receive a pin number to use to make telephone calls, you should write to your Unit Counselor. You are allowed to request to change the phone numbers on your list once every 30 days. Each request will need to go through the same approval process. Please be aware – credit card calls, billing to a third party, call forwarding, transfers or any other method which gets around collect call billing are prohibited. For more information, please review DOC Administrative Directive 10.7 Inmate Communication: http://www.ct.gov/doc/LIB/doc/PDF/AD/ad1007.pdf.
For detailed information on the Securus system, please go here http://www.ct.gov/doc/lib/doc/pdf/securus_phone.pdf.
It will take some time so if you are able to, let loved ones know that it may take several weeks before you can call them. Upon arrival, you will create a calling list that contains up to ten telephone numbers. Numbers on a phone list need to be approved by the facility before you can make any calls. At times, “courtesy calls” may be authorized for newly incarcerated persons by the facility warden. However, you should not rely on this; it is best to let loved ones know that you will try to call as soon as possible but that the process takes some time. This way if they don’t hear from you, they won’t assume it is because you are choosing not to call. This is especially important for children who may not understand that you do not have the choice to make calls whenever you want to while you are away. If children don’t hear from you, they may assume it is because you don’t want to speak with them, so it is a good idea to explain this to them before you leave, when possible.
You will submit a list of up to 10 phone numbers for approval. You will be allowed to change the list of phone numbers once every 30 days. The facility will review the numbers to ensure none are restricted. Once approved, you may make calls up to 15-minutes in length. The number of calls you are allowed to make each day depends on your Security Level. Each facility has its own call schedule. The calls may only be made between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. There shall be no time limit between allowable calls. For more information, please review DOC Administrative Directive 10.7 Inmate Communication: http://www.ct.gov/doc/LIB/doc/PDF/AD/ad1007.pdf.
Within the first few weeks of your sentence, you will have Inmate Orientation. During orientation, information is provided by a Correctional Counselor including facility and departmental rules, behavioral expectations and the disciplinary process. You will be advised on how to access medical, mental health, addiction, religious and educational services and programs. You will also work with the counselor to establish a visiting and telephone list to communicate with family and friends. During orientation you will also receive an Inmate Handbook. These handbooks contain detailed information that you will need throughout your incarceration.
“Commissary” is a term the DOC uses for the service from which incarcerated persons are allowed to purchase items. The ability to purchase items through commissary may be one of the most important things when you are in prison. If you are able, try to always have some money in your commissary account. In the beginning, you will need money to purchase basic necessities: toiletries, shoe laces, underwear, etc. In addition to necessities, you will want it for food and snacks, approved over-the-counter medications (like Tylenol and Ibuprofen), and some things to pass the time like writing materials and religious items. Also, various approved electronics like a radio for music and so you can hear the TV. Items may vary at each facility depending on security level and gender of the inmate. An order form is available in every housing unit for the incarcerated person to fill out, which lists all the items that can be ordered from Commissary. The forms are collected once per week by Commissary staff for processing. Orders are delivered the following week. It will be a few weeks before you can receive your first order; it will be easier for you to deal with that if you understand it when you go in. You are allowed to spend up to $75.00 a week in Commissary if you are in the general population. This amount does not include major items like televisions, radios, clothing, watches, other electronics, footwear, religious items, and cassettes or CDs. Please be aware that there are limitations on the number of electronic items (one of each) and footwear (two pairs) that each person can purchase and have in their possession at any given time. If you have too many, that could result in disciplinary action. Under no circumstances is credit allowed for Commissary purchases. All funds must be in the person’s account at the time their order is processed. You are also not allowed to purchase items for other inmates. The practice of loaning, selling or bartering of Commissary items is a violation of departmental rules, which could result in disciplinary action. Additional facility-specific information can be viewed in the Inmate Handbook (which you will receive at orientation during the first few weeks of your sentence). The Commissary form can be viewed at http://www.ct.gov/doc/lib/doc/PDF/CommissaryOrderForm.pdf.
- Appropriate photos. Find out what the facility’s limit is for the number of photographs you may keep with you. If you have too many, it will be considered contraband, and will result in disciplinary action.
- Newspaper clippings. For example, you could send an article you cut out of a newspaper if the article is appropriate.
- Newspapers, books and magazines can be sent to someone in prison if they are in new condition and are packaged and shipped by the book store, book club or publisher from which they are purchased. You could send books directly from Amazon or subscribe to a newspaper that will deliver the paper directly to your loved one. Printed news is cheap and a great way to keep your loved one aware of the events outside the prison. also receiving something new to read on a regularly basis can be a great way to relieve boredom.
- Some CDs. Approved CDs are available for purchase through commissary. Outside CDs and tapes must be educational or religious in nature and not be available through commissary. They may be ordered by the person that is incarcerated or someone on the outside on their behalf. CDs must be ordered from a commercial distributor and be sent directly by the distributor. Incoming CDs are subject to review; please see Administrative Directive 10.7 for more information: http://www.ct.gov/doc/LIB/doc/PDF/AD/ad1007.pdf. Remember that anything sent to a prison is subject to review by DOC staff. Page eight of Administrative Directive 10.7 Inmate Communications outlines the criteria by which printed material may be allowed or refused.
You will not be allowed to receive paper, pencils, stamps, sexually suggestive photos or reading material, and any illegal items such as drugs and weapons. Also, the Connecticut DOC does not allow family and friends to send in or drop off clothing packages for people in prison. Clothing is provided by the agency and additional items may be purchased from commissary.
You are allowed to write anyone except: a victim of any crime for which you been convicted or are charged with committing; any person under the age of 18 when that person’s parent or guardian objects in writing to such correspondence; an inmate in another correctional facility, other than immediate family; a person on parole or in community confinement without the permission of your Unit Administrator and the supervisor (Parole Officer, or other community supervisor) of the person you are writing: any person you are not allowed to write ny the court order; or any other person with whom, DOC believes, your communication would jeopardize security, order or rehabilitation. (For more information, review DOC’s Administrative Directive 10.7 Inmate Communication).
In terms of communicating with your family, you and your family know what’s best and should decide together how much and what types of communication to maintain during your sentence. It will be helpful to have an understanding at the beginning, but as your family’s needs may change, this decision may be reconsidered at times. In most cases, children find it helpful to be able to communicate with their incarcerated parent on a regular basis.
Also, research does show that maintaining the child’s relationship with their caregiver benefits both the child and the incarcerated parent. It improves the child’s mental health, supports their attachment to that caregiver, and relieves the child’s fears and anxieties over their parent’s well-being. For the incarcerated parent, maintaining communication with family has been shown to reduce recidivism and support successful reentry when returning home. However, every family is different and the decision on whether to maintain communication, in what ways and how often, is one that each family should make together.
The decision of whether a child should visit a loved one in prison is difficult, and important. Each family is different and each child’s needs are different (and may change over time); you and your family know what is best, and your family should decide together whether seeing each other during the parent’s sentence is possible and in the family’s best interest. It will be helpful to have an understanding at the beginning, but as your family’s needs may change, this decision may be reconsidered. In most cases, children find it helpful to see their incarcerated parent on a regular basis. Also, research does show that the separation of a child from a caregiver that they are attached to can cause serious short and long-term harm to the child (for more information on potential health consequences of the separation, review these resources: Osborne Association’s fact sheet on “Parental Incarceration’s Impact on Children’s Health” and Kristin Turney’s research report on “Stress Proliferation across Generations? Examining the Relationship between Parental Incarceration and Childhood Health”). Studies also show that contact between a child and their incarcerated parent can improve the child’s psychological well-being, ease their concerns over the parent’s safety, and decrease the child’s emotional distress and problematic behaviors. For a summary of information that may be helpful in making your decision, please review Osborne Association’s fact sheet on “Parental Incarceration’s Impact on Children’s Health.” For suggestions on making the decision and how to prepare for a positive visiting experience, read this brief from the National Resource Center for Children and Families of the Incarcerated: http://dept.camden.rutgers.edu/nrccfi/files/cipl105-visitingmomordad.pdf.
Some facilities provide contact and non-contact visits. Others have only non-contact visits. You should contact the visitation officer at the facility to find out if your loved one is able to have contact visits.
As best as you are able, establish a routine, read, do puzzles, write letters and stories – keep yourself busy with positive things. It is hard to fight boredom in prison so trying to find a healthy activity like reading, doing puzzles, writing and art will help to calm and focus your mind. Also, begin planning for your return home. Map-out your goals and strategies for achieving them and alternate plans if your primary goals fall through. Having thoughtful and realistic plans may also help if you go before the Board of Pardons and Parole.
According to DOC, a urine analysis will be administered upon intake at York CI to determine whether a new inmate is pregnant. Once the positive result is received, DOC will appoint one of its staff to act as the liaison between DOC, Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, and DCF to arrange prenatal care for the inmate mother. DCF and social work staff from Lawrence and Memorial Hospital will work together to identify a guardian for the newborn upon their delivery. DOC will also begin to work with DCF to identify a guardian to care for the newborn upon their birth.
Delivery will be scheduled at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. During delivery, no visitor is allowed in the delivery room without approval of the Unit Administrator (the Unit Administrator is the Warden of York CI).
Once the newborn has been delivered, a brief visit of up to 30-minutes in the hospital room will be granted between the mother, newborn and guardian(s) for the newborn. This is called a Transition Visit and it is during this time that custody of the newborn is transferred from the mother to the newborn’s guardian(s). Staff that may be present for this Transition Visit include a Lawrence and Memorial Hospital High-Risk case manager or designee, and potentially a child advocate or DCF worker.
Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library has an entire section on prisoner’s rights. To review the information, a PDF is available for download here: http://library.law.yale.edu/prisoners-rights.