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.

Image source: