History and Purpose of Sojourners Detention Center Visitor Program

Founded in 1999, the Sojourners Detention Center Visitor Program recruits, trains, transports, and mentors volunteers to visit and befriend asylum seekers and other non-criminal non-citizens held in area immigration detention centers, jails and prisons.

We match visitors with detainees who do not have family or friends in the vicinity to visit them, for a sustained, one-to-one relationship. The purpose: to help break the isolation and boost the morale of detainees, who may be held for months before being released or deported.

Visitors must complete a 90-minute training, which covers basic terminology, detainees’ needs and concerns, the role of the volunteer visitor, such ground rules as confidentiality, good communication, procedures for entering the detention center, “ten steps for a good visit,” and FAQs (“Can I bring books/food/money for the person I visit?” “What if the person I visit doesn’t have a lawyer?” “The person I visit is being released – where can he/she stay?” “The person I visit is really sick – how can he/she get the needed help?”

A first-time visitor accompanies an experienced “mentor" visitor, after which he/she may be “matched” with a detainee he/she commits to visit at least twice a month. Sojourners provides transport from both uptown and midtown Manhattan to Elizabeth Detention Center twice a month.

Sojourners also works with numerous partners and friends to assist in providing post-release services for recently released immigrants and asylum seekers.

Sojourners, whose volunteers come from all over New York City, works in collaboration with First Friends, whose volunteers are from New Jersey. Frances Connell is Sojourners chair: frances.connell (at) gmail.com.