Televisiting lets kids talk to incarcerated parents without going to prison

NEW YORK — An organization is trying to help keep families together throughout the legal process with televisiting.

Psychiatrist Phyllis Harrison Ross saw how prisons were using their video conferencing software to have inmates meet with their lawyers or appear before a judge and she came up with a brilliant idea: use the technology to help them meet with their children.

Now, the televisiting program at the New York Society for Ethical Culture is helping hundreds of children see their parents in jail.

“They are afraid of having their children come to visit them because as you can imagine it’s an extremely traumatic experience,” said Richard Koral, one of the leaders at the Society for Ethical Culture.

At the center it’s a homey atmosphere that can help make the child feel much more comfortable while they talk to their parent at a correctional facility.

“So the space is our environment. It’s where we do things. It’s where we have relationships, so this room was designed to really support family,” psychologist Frank Corigliano said.

For five years Corigliano has helped connect inmates with their children as they await trial or serve out short sentences in the New York City correctional system.

“Having a strong healthy connection with a parent can ensure that the child has a better chance at success in life," he said. “By putting yourself next to dad it creates a narrative and a memory that includes you.”

Manuel Moore brings his daughter to the Center so she can see her mother who is at Rikers Island.

“You need both parents," Moore said. "I think the visual aspect, it doesn’t substitute for the physical, but just to see the interaction, it means a lot.”

Which is why Koral said programs like this are important to make sure kids don’t get lost in the legal system.

“We have to remember the children who are really the collateral damage to the system where we adults make a mess of things," Koral said.

The New York Center for Ethical Culture is teaching other organizations to institute televisiting so they can help bring even more families together. They’ve partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library and UPromise and hope to teach other organizations in the future.