Prison Visitors Room Aims To Put Inmates, Families At Ease

March 08, 2020 - 8:22 pm

ENFIELD, Conn. (AP) — For years prison inmate Rudy Ortiz only was able to see his children from behind a divider that prevented contact in tightly controlled, hour-long visits.

Now, after an overhaul of the visiting room at Cybulski Community Reintegration Center, he can play board games with his family and hold his granddaughter in a space painted shades of pink and green.

"I remember when they had the dividers like the children would become impatient, they would cry, they wouldn't understand why they couldn't interact physically with their parents," Ortiz said, "and this just changes everything in here."

The visiting room unveiled last week was renovated as part of the Department of Correction's efforts to help prisoners keep up family connections because it eases transitions back to life outside and ultimately reduces chances of recidivism.

It was designed with assistance from the Family Connections in Correctional Facilities Project through the National Institute of Corrections, which included the prison in Enfield and was among five sites nationwide to receive help with programs aimed at reducing the barriers between families and those incarcerated.

In the visiting center that once had long wooden tables set up with dividers to prevent contact, there are now smaller communal tables and shelves full of books, games and children's toys.

Ortiz, 40, went to prison in 2005 on a 19-year sentence for an assault conviction.

A recent visit he had with his daughter in the new room is the most interaction he's had with his children since going to prison, he said. He did not want his granddaughter to come and see him in prison but now, he said, "with the way the visiting room is I don't have a problem with her coming up to visit me.”

Research has shown that refocusing priorities on family reunification, reentry to society and holding events like the family dance the prison held last year helps not only keep up morale for incarcerated people but even prison employees as well, said Trina Sexton, director of reentry services for the Correction Department.

Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook said the changes in policies also line up with his priority on emphasizing the dignity of inmates and family connections.

“To me it's a perfect fit because we are humanizing even the visiting place,” Cook said, “and for them to engage beyond even just talking.”


Chris Ehrmann is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, in a partnership with The Associated Press for Connecticut. The AP is solely responsible for all content.