City may include dads in family field trip program for detained parents

The son of a woman currently incarcerated at Rikers Island participates in activities at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in April 2018. Photo by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

The son of a woman currently incarcerated at Rikers Island participates in activities at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in April 2018. Photo by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

By David Brand

An initiative that enables detained mothers to meet with their children at a Manhattan museum could expand to include fathers, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday during his weekly appearance on the “Brian Lehrer Show.” The Department of Correction confirmed that the agency is considering the expansion.

Since April 2018, the Crafting Family Connections program championed by First Lady Chirlane McCray has given some detained or incarcerated moms an opportunity to spend time with their kids at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Mothers who are charged with or convicted of nonviolent offenses and who have records of good behavior can enroll in Crafting Family Connections, but so far the program excludes dads who are held in city jails.

De Blasio signaled that the city is open to including fathers in the program.

On Friday, a man named Winston called into the “Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC during the weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment to find out whether Crafting Family Connections might expand to include fathers who are detained or incarcerated. Winston identified himself as a Rikers Island detainee and said he was calling on behalf of dads he knew behind bars.

“I know First Lady McCray over at Rosie’s [Rose M. Singer Center] takes moms [into] the city to spend time with their kids. And I was just wondering if we can look forward to a program like that for the dads who are incarcerated at Rikers sometime soon?” Winston asked, his question interrupted by an automated message from the jail phone system indicating that he had one minute left on the phone call.

De Blasio said Winston made a “fair point” and a “good point.”

“What my wife, Chirlane McCray, did was to focus on the needs of mothers who were disconnected from their kids and try to create a very different approach where mothers had some time with their kids, particularly in a more conducive setting,” de Blasio said.

“And that has made a huge difference for those families to, you know, keep closer as they go through incarceration and hopefully, you know, a good pathway out of incarceration and into the family being strong again,” de Blasio continued. “Certainly dads deserve that opportunity as well … We were focused on the moms because there is a particular need there but I think it’s a great idea to take it farther and find a way to do that.”

Crafting Family Connections is designed to foster positive interactions among justice-involved families to enable healthy development for children.

“With increased opportunities for children to maintain relationships with an incarcerated parent and through better support for these parents—and other types of caregivers in the community—children and their families can be better protected and tap into their own resiliency against the effects of incarceration,” The Vera Justice Institute wrote in a report titled “The Human Toll of Jail.”

The Department of Correction said the program has proven successful for mothers and children and that the agency is “exploring” off-site programs for dads. The DOC currently runs on-site and televisory visitation programs for detained and incarcerated dads to connect with their children.

“Our off-site visitation program with incarcerated mothers at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan has been a great success, and we are now exploring a similar program for fathers,” the DOC said. “We are committed to keeping family and community connections strong for individuals in our custody, and quality time with loved ones increases safety and helps people rejoin their communities.”

In December 2018, McCray announced that the Crafting Family Connections pilot program had received funding to continue through 2020.

“Over the next two years, even more justice-involved families will be able to spend quality time together at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan,” McCray said in December. “Our hope is that this program, along with a host of other reforms the Department of Correction is leading, will help spur greater change — not just in New York City but across the nation.”