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Center for Restorative Justice Works

Beyond the Bus: Connecting children with parents in prison - because strong families make strong communities.

Nonprofit

Every child has the right to build a loving relationship with their parents, even if a parent is in prison. Keeping children connected with incarcerated parents has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of children, to reduce recidivism rates, and build stronger communities. Beyond the Bus is a transformative program that offers children the chance to maintain connection and personal relationships with a parent in prison through virtual visits and expanded opportunities for in-person visits after the pandemic.



Describe the mission of your organization.

CRJW is a non-profit that provides free family reunification and support services to children of incarcerated parents. We invite you to join our mission to build stronger families and communities.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • Westside
  • South Bay
  • Antelope Valley
  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Children are often denied the chance to connect with a parent in prison, either because the parent is too far away to visit or because children can’t afford the cost of expensive phone calls or car rides. Estimates suggest more than 80,000 children in LA County have a parent behind bars (pre-pandemic). 60% of incarcerated parents in California report being more than 100 miles away from their families. Parental incarceration impacts the whole family: loss of family income, the daily absence of a parent, and physical separation. Many children are forced to live with extended family or enter foster care. A 2015 study found 32% of affected children had behavioral problems, and 38% experienced mental health or medical problems. By failing to keep families connected our criminal justice system is failing children in our communities. Offered the chance to connect regularly, children demonstrate better health and education outcomes, and incarcerated parents have lower recidivism rates.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Recent policy changes in California permit children to connect with a parent in prison through video visits. It’s a gamechanger for children who sometimes go years without being able to say “I love you” to their parents. Beyond the Bus is a pioneering program that empowers children in LA County to make these precious connections on a regular basis. Beyond the Bus will establish 10 Hubs throughout LA County that provide internet connectivity, Wifi-capable tablets, and safe spaces for video visits. Hubs will be located at schools or faith-based institutions with a history of serving this community. Beyond the Bus isn’t just about providing connectivity – it’s about bringing together a community of volunteers, local organizations, and people to support one of LA County’s most vulnerable populations. Children are often referred to as the “forgotten victims of the criminal justice system.” We need to go ‘beyond the bus’ to make sure that we do not leave these children behind. Hubs will provide food, fun activities, homework help, and access to a network of caring volunteers and professional staff. Volunteers will assist children and families in filling out forms to register for video visits, provide English language assistance, and register families for in-person visits after the pandemic. Hubs will also serve as important communication channels to inform families about policy changes, and to gather information about the number of children experiencing parental incarceration.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

50,000
Direct impact
100,000
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Far too often, children are denied the chance to connect with a parent in prison. This causes lasting damage to family relationships and communities. Family separation due to parental incarceration is not the child’s fault, and yet children suffer greatly from the impacts of incarceration. These children are more likely to grow up in poverty and to experience behavioral and emotional problems. We can work to reverse the effects of family separation for thousands of children in LA County through Beyond the Bus! Impact for this program will be measured in the number of children served, the frequency of video visits, improved attendance and performance in school, and increased access to in-person visits after the pandemic. An added benefit will be collecting accurate data on the number of children with incarcerated parents in LA County – information that is not regularly reported and could greatly improve support services to affected families.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Beyond the Bus expands an existing program called Get on the Bus (GOTB). GOTB provides free transportation for children to visit a parent at California’s state prisons once a year. From 2001-2021, GOTB served over 15,000 children. With video visits now authorized, Beyond the Bus can expand family reunification services and video visits to over 80,000 LA County children, and turn GOTB’s annual program into a monthly event. The pandemic has laid bare the need to innovate new programs and services so that connection between child and parent remains constant. Beyond the Bus provides a solution that is achievable, scalable, and which directly addresses basic needs for children of incarcerated parents. To evaluate success, Hubs will collect data on the number of children served, as well as information on important impact factors like school attendance. Impact studies from GOTB clearly show that regular connection improves the health and wellbeing of children, and lowers recidivism rates.

Which of the connect metrics will you impact?​

  • Internet access
  • Social and emotional support
  • Volunteerism

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