By Lucy Nicholson

The children bounded off the bus and ran excitedly towards a tall fence topped with razor wire. In the distance, through layers of fencing overlooked by a guard tower, huddled a group of mothers in baggy blue prison-issue clothes, pointing, waving and gasping. Many had not seen their children in over a year.

Frank Martinez jumped up and down, shrieking with delight. “Stay right there Mommy,” he yelled. “Don’t cry.” As the children disappeared into a building to be searched and x-rayed, a couple of the mothers began sobbing.

An annual Mother’s Day event, Get On The Bus, provides free transport for hundreds of children to visit their incarcerated moms at California Institute for Women in Chino, and other state prisons. Sixty percent of parents in state prison report being held over 100 miles from their children, and visits are impossible for many.

California locks up more women than any other state in the U.S. — 11,250 in 2007 – and three quarters are mothers. The children left behind with family or in foster care often feel abandoned and some don’t see their moms for years.

Regular prison visits lower rates of recidivism for the parent, and make the child better emotionally adjusted and less likely to become delinquent, according to The Center for Restorative Justice Works, the non-profit organization that runs the Get on the Bus program.