Florida inmate visitation time could be cut in half

- Loved ones of Florida inmates pleaded with corrections officials Thursday not to slash visitation time. 

The Department of Corrections is proposing a 50 percent cut in the amount of time people can spend with their locked-up loved ones.  

Across the sunshine state, nearly 100,000 people are in prison and the only time their families get to see them face-to-face is during visitation. Right now, that's every Saturday and Sunday, but a plan on the table would limit those visits to every other weekend.

Standing at a podium almost his own height, Cody Calhoun, the son of an inmate, pleaded to keep the time he spends with his father.

“Please don't take my visits, or anyone else's away from us,” Cody said.

The 11-year-old joined dozens of other loved ones speaking out against the proposed change at a public hearing Thursday. Some said the new rules would place an unfair burden on families.

"If you take visits away I will be devastated. It means so much to the people in prison to have their visits in person,” Calhoun said. “I love playing with him, and it brings me closer to him."

"It is your responsibility facilitate it,” Jodi Chambers-Wilson said, pointing to officials. “Because I have done nothing wrong but be a mother. Let me be a mother to my son."

The plan on the table would only be rolled-out at certain prisons, based on a variety of factors.

"We'll evaluate that visitation schedule based on institutional security, staffing, safety and security of the inmates, visitors and staff, the maximum capacity of these parks, the numbers of visitors, and the frequency of contraband that's introduced into our facilities," explained Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary of Institutions, Richard Comerford.

People urging officials to drop the cuts say face-to-face visits play a significant role in reducing recidivism, as well as keeping inmates on their best behavior inside prison walls.

"If there are key players in a dormitory who have visitations approaching, they are not going to let anything violent happen in there because that could jeopardize their visitation," former inmate Kyle Williford said.

Officials say staff shortages are the main reason behind the proposed visitation policy, as well as an increase of illegal drugs, cell phones, weapons, and other contraband getting into facilities.

The agency is facing deep budget cuts and this is one way to save money. The policy could go into effect this summer.

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