Incarcerated Fathers

Prison Bars Children who have parents that have been incarcerated are five times more likely to spend time in prison when they become adults compared to children who have never had an incarcerated parent (Urban Institute, 2003).

Crime is leveling out in the United States yet there are scores of people still being warehoused in prisons across the country.  The majority of these prisoners are parents.  The incarceration of a father has a devastating impact on the family unit, namely because of the huge financial loss.  Furthermore, when daddies are locked up, there is a strain on spousal relationships, a disruption in the parent-child relationship, and the loss of a ‘father figure.’  Using an excerpt from an interview of a father returning from prison, this post looks at the impact of incarceration on the family unit and its resulting financial, emotional, psychological, social, and community costs.

The subject of this interview was imprisoned for armed robbery.  When he entered prison, he had two young boys, aged 3 and 5 and spent a total of 10 years in prison for his crime.  The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Samuel: What were your experiences and those of your family?

Subject Father: “I was more distant from my family. As time went on, there was less communication with me and more negative thoughts placed in my kids’ heads.”

Samuel: What changes did your family go through?

Subject Father: “They found themselves going to foreclosure and eventually lost the house.  From that point they wandered from family and friends and in and out of different apartments.  My kids developed discipline problems at home and at school.  When I came home, they were more belligerent and they would not listen to me.  I found the relationship with my kids to be distant.  Not what it was before I left.  My wife caught the attention of other men while I was locked up and we eventually separated and divorced.”

Samuel: Did you maintain ties with your family while you were locked up?

Subject Father: “Yes, mainly through letters and phone calls.  The kids were too young to read.  I had three visits from my family while I was in prison.  My kids’ mother was more supportive in the beginning but as time went on, we became more distant.

Samuel: What other changes did you experience?

Subject Father: “When I came home, there were a lot of changes.  I had to re-adapt to society and find other support through friends to help financially and mentally to make change.  I had to re-invent myself.  I got my CDL license in order to find another job and get in the workforce.  On prison, you don’t want to be there because a lot of things that happen in prison stay in prison.  You have to re-adapt to a whole other type of society in prison.  There are things you should do and not do and I would never want my kids to experience that.  Never!”

While this is only one illustration of what happens to a family unit when a father is locked up for several years, our subject father’s story is commonplace among communities and cities in this country.  There is no arguing the fact that if someone commits a crime they should be held accountable but the resulting impacting on children and families cannot be ignored.  And the sad fact is that one’s criminal act is often the spark that ignites the never-ending cycle of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and crime.  I just hope the future is brighter than the past and present situation.

Be safe,

L.J. Follow me on Twitter: @CrimeDoc1213

#incarceratedfathers #incarceration #prison #crime #justice #cycle #poverty #delinquency #family #fatherfigure #future #hope


Samuel, L. (2004). Family issues: The impact of an incarcerated father on the family unit (Unpublished paper). Howard University, Washington, DC.

Travis, J., McBride, E., & Solomon, A. (2003). Families left behind: The hidden costs of incarceration and reentry. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

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System Failure

What do you do when the system fails a young, poor girl? Who is to blame? What is the remedy for the cycle of poverty? Meet Jordan.  She is 15 years old and in the seventh grade.  From the start of her life, Jordan was doomed.  When Jordan’s mom was pregnant with her, she smoke and drank almost every day.  In an interview, Jordan’s mom admitted to a daily consumption of 14 beers and at least one pack of cigarettes.  Jordan was the sixth child born to her 31-year-old mother.

Jordan came from meager beginnings. Both her mother and father have criminal records and her two older brothers are in prison for murder. Jordan grew up in a one bedroom apartment with eight other people in a rough neighborhood in Washington, DC. As the only girl, she really had to fend for herself. She started getting into trouble in kindergarten where she was suspended several times for fighting. She had a hard time paying attention at school and grasping simple concepts so she lashed out as a way of coping. Perhaps the substances her mother consumed while she was in the womb coupled with the social environment she was being reared in contributed to this behavior? When she came home from school, no one was there to read to her, go over her colors, or teach her to count.

Jordan survived off of potato chips, cereal, and orange soda.  When she went to middle school, she was held back- twice.  She fought any and every one because that’s all she was good at.  When she was 13 years old, she took money out of her teacher’s purse because her mom never gave her money for bus fare.  But she got caught and was arrested and so began her life of crime.  Her older brother accompanied her to court and told her what to say to her public defender.  And even though this was her first offense, she received three months’ probation.  She had to comply with the conditions such as staying out of trouble, going to school, getting good grades, and meeting with her probation officer but she did none of that because she was accountable to no one and no one was accountable to her.

So, here we have Jordan.  She was forced to grow up too soon.  She hangs out with the guys in the neighborhood during school hours because they take care of her. Besides, she doesn’t have time for school because soon Jordan is going to be a mother.

Be safe,

L.J. Follow me on Twitter: @CrimeDoc1213

#systemfailure #cycleofpoverty #crime #justice

Note: names changed to protect identity of subjects.