Florida Department Of Corrections
by Anne Haw Holt
U.S. Department of Justice figures confirm that approximately two thirds of state inmates in the United States are fathers. This suggests that more than one million children are affected by this separation throughout the United States, and thousands in Florida. The majority of research on incarceration and families has focused on mothers, with little attention paid to the problems of the inmate as a father. The information researchers have collected examines (1) Father-child interaction, (2) structure of families and parenting experience, (3) psychological responses of father and child, and (4) programs to assist incarcerated fathers with the problems created by this separation. 1/
Present research considers legal, economic, environmental, emotional, and relationship issues affecting incarcerated fathers and their children. Charles S. Lanier of the Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Centre at the University of Albany New York urges more study in these areas. Only a small amount of information is available, and many more studies are needed to obtain an adequate understanding of how a separation of father and child by the father's incarceration affects either party. 2/
Separation from a parent by incarceration "is likely to be traumatic, disrupt personal and family bonds, and worsen the family's social and financial situation. Behavioral problems also tend to emerge in a sizeable minority of children." 3/
The Child Welfare League of America argues that "as a result of parental incarceration, many of this population of children have experienced multiple placements, decreased quality of care, financial hardship and irreparable damage to family bonds. Because of these traumas, they are at risk for poor academic achievement, substance abuse, delinquency and criminal activity that can lead to their own incarceration." 4/ At present, approximately 50% of the children of inmates are expected to enter the juvenile justice system before they are eighteen.
Florida Department of Corrections has little information on the number of children affected by a father's incarceration and virtually none on how the children respond to their situation. We can only apply admittedly sketchy national numbers to obtain an estimate. Additionally, behavioral statistics available to us primarily study male children, with little consideration of the effect of parental incarceration on females, a portion of juvenile and adult offenders growing at an alarming rate in Florida and throughout the nation.
Surveying a large number of the fathers incarcerated in Florida correctional facilities will provide a starting point for understanding the scope of the problem, an opportunity to compare Florida's situation with national norms, and approaches we might use in making changes.
The last four pages of this proposal are the survey we will request that each participant in "Reading Family Ties" complete. This document will give us critical information, as outlined above, and help the father focus on the effect of his incarceration on his children.
We propose to reinforce the connection of incarcerated fathers with their minor children through parenting education, letter writing, and helping them read a story on audio-tape to mail to their child. Activities that maintain the bond between father and child during this separation will improve the transition of the father from custody back to family and society, reducing recidivism.
The caring expressed when the father greets his child on the tape before reading, and tells him/her goodbye when the story is complete will reach the child in a more human way than a letter or telephone call. Ownership of the tape will allow the child to hear this caring over and over. Speaking into a tape recorder may make it possible for fathers, who often have difficulty expressing their feelings in person, to say "I love you" to their children. Seeing and hearing that their father cares about them in this way will make it easier for the children to face many of the traumas created by their father's incarceration, erase some of the resentment against society they fell at the loss of their parent, and help to break the cycle of "generational incarceration."
This contact will improve the parenting skills of the father, and improve his literacy where appropriate. It will also improve the literacy of their children, by providing the "reading aloud" activity recommended by experts on childhood education.
Inmate fathers at Jefferson, Wakulla, and Taylor Correctional Institutions will be given the opportunity to volunteer to participate in ?Parenting From Inside? an 80 hour parenting class which includes self esteem building, communication skills, and conflict management. Each participant in this class will keep a journal and prepare letters to their child on a regular basis. They will read or tell a story to their child on audiotape, with a personal greeting and close. Each Father will be asked to complete the Holt Survey of Incarcerated Fathers on the first and last meeting of the parenting class.
A flyer will be posted throughout the compound and interested inmates will complete a request form to participate.
The file of each father who volunteers will be screened by:
a. checking for any restrictions on contact with children;
b. obtaining behavioral record from proper officer;
c. Ascertaining appropriate reading level to assist in selection of reading materials.
The local Program Coordinator will make appointments with the fathers, prepare letters seeking the cooperation of the children?s care giver, work with the father on selection of reading material, assist in preparation of letters to children and assist him in reading practice if necessary.
Fathers with severe reading problems will be assisted by referral to the proper trainer within the institution, or helped to memorize a short story or poem for reading to his children.
One inmate assistant will record the address for the mailing tape, assist in completion of survey, and keep a roster of participants.
Another inmate assistant will operate audio equipment and assist a father in making a tape. The completed tape and the book will be placed in a padded mailing bag, left unsealed, and given to the Program Coordinator for presentation to security for examination, sealing, and including in mail pick-up.
Contact: Anne Haw Holt, Consultant, 2636 W Mission Road, #136, Tallahassee, FL 32304, 850/576-0721, Aholt@garnet.acns.fsu.edu
1/ Charles S. Lanier, "Incarcerated Fathers: A Research Agenda," School of Criminal Justice, Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Centre, University at Albany, New York.
3/ Stewart Gabel, M.D., "Behavioral problems in the children of incarcerated parents," Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Children's Hospital; Associate Professor of psychiatry and Pediatrics, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. (http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/crd/forum/e072/e0721.htm).
4/ Child Welfare League of America, October 2, 1997 News Release, Washington, DC., "Parents in Prison: Children in Crisis."