SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN)– Children as young as 16 with parents or siblings in jail will be able to make solo visits under policies enacted Monday by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

The jail visiting policies signed Monday by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi are intended to reduce recidivism and help maintain family ties for inmates, sheriff’s officials said. Before Monday, the solo visiting age in jails was 18.

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The policies for parent-child contact visits are uniform across all county jails and codify procedures for “goodbye” visits preceding lengthier separations, such as for parents awaiting transfer to state prison.

The changes, created in cooperation with the San Francisco Youth Commission and Community Works West, an advocacy group for teens with incarcerated parents, are also intended to reduce trauma for the children of inmates.

A recent study found that there are more than 1,000 children with parents in San Francisco jails on any given day, but only 34 percent of those children are visiting their parents in jail, sheriff’s officials said.

“Why is the system punishing the children of incarcerated parents?” Mirkarimi said in a statement. “We cannot ignore the pernicious effects that incarceration has on the children of the incarcerated if our objective is to lower incarceration and recidivism rates along with the inequality that often stigmatizes those left behind.”

With the Community Works West One Family program, the sheriff’s department has created uniform child-centered visiting spaces at each jail where children are able to touch and talk with their parents. The program also offers therapists who specialize in helping children with trauma, and offers parenting classes and therapy to inmates.

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For inmates preparing for transfer to state prison for longer sentences, the department has also now established policies for a series of visits allowing parents to explain their sentence to their children, make plans to stay in touch and say goodbye.

In addition, the program provides small gifts such as photos of inmates with their children.

Ruth Morgan, executive director of Community Works West, said the sheriff’s department has embraced a “children first” policy.

“I know these new policies and procedures will ease the trauma of parental incarceration for children and lower recidivism rates for their parents,” Morgan said in a statement.

Mirkarimi said the policy is the first of its kind in any county jail system in California.

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