01/31/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Prison bus initiative helps bring inmates, family together

A prison inmate who stays connected with family and gets to see them while in jail has a better chance of turning their life around once they get out, but for some whose loved-ones are incarcerated, significant challenges stand in the way of visits.

Research has shown that getting to see family can be very beneficial for prisoners. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, for example, says the chances of an inmate re-offending dropped 31 per cent among those who received visits during the year prior to their release.

The number of visits also had a notable impact - each visit reduced their odds of re-offending after release by about 4 per cent.

"People outside, they probably just see us as criminals,” says Nathan Trudeau, who is serving time in Ontario’s Warkworth institution for armed robbery.

“They don't look at us like human beings. They think that our lives don't matter and we change as soon as the door's locked, but we're people too. We're convicts, we've done bad things, but some of us plan to change."

And while visits can help bolster that desire to change, they can also help the families of inmates in return.

“If a child loses a parent to divorce or to death, the community typically rallies around - but with prison that’s not that case,” says Jessica Reid, co-founder of Foster, Empowering and Advocating Together (FEAT), a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting inmates with their families.

“People seem to turn their backs and forget about these kids. Yet if we don't support them, they are at risk for so many bad outcomes, poor mental health, dropping out of school and then following in the footsteps. It's very important that we support them."

However, for some families, institutions are simply difficult places to get to - many inmates are incarcerated hours away from where their loved ones live. For others, the very idea of visiting a penitentiary is overwhelming.

Reid co-founded FEAT to help families and inmates deal with challenges that keep them apart.

Since 2011, more than 250 children and 400 families have climbed on the special FEAT-sponsored bus and been driven to penitentiaries across southern Ontario.

Reid says it’s a simple idea, but that the stakes are high for everyone involved.

"The hardest part is knowing that they have to leave at a certain time," says Trudeau. "They can only stay her for so long, right, and after that they have to leave. And I have to stay here. It's sad letting them go."

The CBC’s Nick Purdon (@cbcnickpurdon) went on a bus trip recently to the Warkworth institution in Ontario where Trudeau is serving time for armed robbery. Trudeau’s sons Thian and Cash, along with his wife Eve and his mother Rose, came to visit. Watch the video of the visit, and Purdon’s video documentary about FEAT and prison visits.