Families Outside connects loved ones to those incarcerated

FOR THE LOVE OF FAMILY—Monet Miller, 33, and her mother board a bus to travel to Laurel Highlands State Correctional Institution to visit their loved one.

In addition to transportation and prison staff liaison services, families and individuals have access to other therapeutic services provided by Family Services including counseling to assist them to cope with the stress of a loved one’s incarceration.
With many of the state correctional facilities located in rural areas, Families Outside provides low cost to-and-from transportation services to most of the state institutions. “A lot of the family members taking advantage of our program are senior citizens and mothers with children who don’t have transportation,” said Gwen Porter, loan officer of the Ways to Work Program and supervisor of Transportation Resource Services. “People also utilize the service because it is more cost-effective.”
Affiliated with the Families Outside program during her 15 years with Family Resources, Porter said throughout the years the ridership has grown because of the increased number of facilities. “Ridership normally increases during summer months,” she said. Porter and Chapman estimate that average monthly ridership is 150 to 160 people. Families Outside is the only prison transportation service provided in the area.
The Department of Corrections oversees 25 state correctional institutions, one motivational boot camp, 14 community correction centers, and nearly 40 contract facilities. It houses nearly 50,000 inmates, has a budget of $2.5 billion and has approximately 15,000 employees.
Some trips are monthly and others are every other month, occurring most days during the week. Short trips for adults 18 to 64 costs $25 and senior citizens 65 and older are charged $12.50. Long trips for adults 18 to 64 costs $35 and for senior citizens, $17.50. The charge for children 5 to 17 is $15 and infants ride free.
Buses depart across from the Allegheny County Courthouse—One Mellon Bank Center (rear) at Fifth Avenue and Ross Street. Chapman said first-time riders must participate in an orientation which explains the rules, and what to expect during a visit. Identification is needed and registration is requested for all family members for each trip. Payments are accepted in person, by mail and online.
“Families Outside also assists families in making contact with their loved ones’ counselors, medical personnel or administrators,” said Chapman.
The mission of Family Services, 6401 Penn Avenue, is to empower people to reach their full potential. In addition to providing services for family members of incarcerated people, the organization offers a wide variety of programs, services and activities for children, families and adults. Services include licensed mental health and substance abuse programs, volunteer-based supports for older adults, residential services for persons with developmental and mental health disabilities, financial counseling, vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation, student assistance programs, and transitional youth programs.
“Our services are designed to assist individuals in living the most productive lives possible to the benefit of the communities in which they live,” Porter said.
The agency’s services are developed in accordance with national service organizations, the Alliance for Children and Families, the United Way, the University of Pittsburgh and the Child Welfare League of America and are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children. Certification by the Council on Accreditation means that Family Services meets the highest national standards for professional performance in human services.
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