Indiana bars extended family from seeing more than 1 prisoner

Limit on prison visits angers South Bend family

By ALICIA GALLEGOS Tribune Staff Writer
May 23, 2010
SOUTH BEND — When Sam Dickens’ son went to prison earlier this year, the father didn’t think he’d have any problem visiting him at Westville Correctional facility.

After all, Dickens’ nephew is also an inmate in an Indiana prison, and Dickens has been visiting the young man for years.

But Dickens said he was shocked to learn he couldn’t be on his son’s visiting list.

Instead, new visiting restrictions at the Indiana Department of Correction meant Dickens had to choose to visit his son or his nephew, not both.

“I’m so frustrated. It’s just not right,” Dickens said during a recent interview at his home. “They’re separating the families.”IDOC officials explain the new visitation rule was implemented this year because of security concerns.

The restriction specifies extended family members and friends can visit only one IDOC inmate per six months. The rule, said IDOC spokesman Doug Garrison, is to curb rampant contraband trafficking plaguing Indiana prisons.

“We’re trying to reduce the chances of people bringing contraband into our facilities,” Garrison said.

Contraband problems

Garrison says the new visitor restriction will help the IDOC better regulate who is coming into their facilities and who might be bringing prohibited items.The spokesman stressed the rule applies only to extended family members and does not affect fathers, mothers, children, sisters, brothers or grandparents.

But relatives such as Dickens and Tracy Franklin argue that many times it’s extended family members, such as aunts and uncles, who have helped raise children.

Franklin, of South Bend, has a son and nephew in Indiana prisons, along with a cousin. She only recently found out about the new restriction.

“I think family members should be able to see their loved ones,” she said. “That’s unfair. I can’t go see my nephew. I can’t go see my cousin.”

Dickens said his nephew, Greg Dickens, always looked up to him and that going to visit the man “empowers him,” and “kinda helps keep him alive.”Greg Dickens was convicted as a teenager of murder in the death of South Bend Police Cpl. Paul Deguch. He is now serving a life sentence.

Dickens’ son Samson Dickens just recently began serving a 6-year sentence for assault, his father said.

Garrison acknowledges the visiting policy will no doubt adversely affect families who are not at fault. But, he said the rising climate of contraband has forced correctional facilities to tighten their rules.

Take for instance one recent month, Garrison said, where IDOC officials confiscated 250 cell phones from one prison facility.”It’s absolutely crazy,” he said.

Indiana prisons are not alone.

In recent years, banned items — particularly cell phones — have steadily grown in prisons across the country, according to the American Correctional Association.

A visitor in a wheelchair sitting on hordes of cell phones. Civilians throwing tennis balls or footballs over prison yard fences with hidden items. Visitors slipping products inside sleeves.

“Inmates are creative,” ACA spokesman Eric Schultz said.Schultz said prisons are making various efforts to fight contraband, although he said he has not heard of other prisons restricting extended family members.

“That’s interesting,” he said of the IDOC rule. “I can’t say we have heard that.”

In Michigan, a similar visiting restriction is in effect, according to the MDOC website.

Proposed visitors can be on visiting lists for immediate family members, but only on the list of one prisoner who is not immediate family.

The rule indicates aunts, uncles or other family members can be included as “immediate family,” if they can provide verification they served as a surrogate parent.MDOC Spokesman John Cordell said he is not surprised about Indiana enforcing the new restriction.

“Unfortunately visitors are one of the ways contraband comes into prisons,” he said.

‘Balance needed’

Visitors might not seem like that big a deal to those on the outside, but the Rev. David Link says for prisoners, they mean the world.

Link, former University of Notre Dame law school dean and now prison chaplain and deputy director of religious and community services for the IDOC, said inmates who have more family visits have a better attitude while in prison and are more likely to be successful upon release.”There’s not much that’s more important to the incarcerated than being able to visit with their families,” Link said. “It doesn’t just make them turn their life around, it makes them a better-acting prisoner.”

Link adds that non-family members — such as mentors, friends, or teachers — can often have an even greater impact on prisoners than an immediate family member. On the same note, an immediate family member can easily be the bad influence.

“We gotta look at it as a case-by-case basis,” Link said. “Someone has gotta look at who is best to visit and who might not be best to visit.”

Rather than a blanket limitation, Link believes, a better balance needs to be made between visiting benefits and maintaining security.

“We can’t let up on the security,” he said. “But we also gotta think of people as individuals.”As for the IDOC, Garrison said extended family members who would like to appeal the visiting restriction can always request an exception from the prison superintendent.

“I would encourage people to do that,” he said.

Dickens said he has made the difficult decision to visit his son in prison and not his nephew. He is considering appealing to the IDOC for an exception.


Visiting and writing

This was written in 2005 for the FFUP Newsletter. SInce the internet host will cease to exist soon, we re-publish this here.

by D.

After giving this some thought, I have decided that my primary concern is not only the closure of the inhumane concentration camp and implement of racial/ethnic cleansing, but it is also – even while it still may operate – to have a system of real checks and balances. Right now, there is only a sham of such a recourse in the form of exhaustive remedies and CCE and ICRS. And these are only available for the inmate. I have never heard of an inmate, who has utilized these remedies, to have actually won his case. Even though he may have every evidence, and even court orders, he usually (always that I have known) loses.

But, it is the free citizen, like myself; the visitor, the correspondent, that has no recourse – unless you have the time and money to hire a lawyer to file a civil suit.

My experience with WSPF has been one in which they have taken sentences out of context and portions of visits and made them into something (a conflict with the Administrative Code, and worse, their own special little rules and regulations) that was completely made up on their part. For instance, most recently they took a sentence out of one of my letters to an inmate, where I said I would send in to a pen pal service for him. In his letters to this pen pal service, this inmate always (always) put in the responding letter that he was in prison. In some form or another, he mentioned that he was incarcerated. I would send in his letter and the $6.00 that it cost to find a pen pal. Unknown to me, he had also written this service and mentioned that he would like to place an ad for himself. They (WSPF) says that he had planned to place an ad without telling them he was in prison and that constituted fraud. WSPF decided that, because I was paying for and sending ‘his’ letter to answer other ads, that I must also be part of the attempt to conceal that he was in prison in the ad that he planned to put in. As a result, they charged me with fraud, and demoted him from level 4 to level 1 or 2. (I’m not sure which). Although I had all the proof, they would not even consider that I was not involved or had knowledge of any wrong doing, or infringement of codes.

As a matter of fact, I was so distraught that my personal rights and freedoms could be so maligned, I also wrote legislators, the Governor Doyle, newspapers, etc. And no one responded. And I see this kind of power and control over ordinary citizens all the time. No agency should have that much control. There should be a recourse for families and incarcerated both.

The idea of the level system is a total sham. Many have gone through the levels and been dropped for nothing. And at the same time, many have been transferred out – for no apparent reason – without ever completing the level 4.

Court orders, protecting the inmates and their properties (legal and personal) have no protection within the walls of WSPF. They are able to confiscate, destroy, deface at will. And no one will put an end to this. Even though it has been decided that those in charge of such institutions need to obey their own laws to show that it is important to follow rules and regulations, it rarely happens. I have heard again and again the break down of court ordered protections. There needs to be someone – a real someone, not the imagined ‘monitor’ – that steps in and makes this ‘giant’ of small people with a little power, follow their own rules and the laws of this country. All the time, not just when someone is watching.