Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The children of prison houses

It is said that the sins of the father are visited upon the son. It is definitely true in this society. Caste systems are in full effect despite the illusion that everyone can easily slip between classes. If you find a child who is poorly educated, living in poverty, in poor health it is almost 100% true that you will find the same true of their parents.

It is written that Yacub did not build prison houses for his followers. When one fell a victim to the law the penalty was death. There are prison houses built for the original man and woman in america. The reason they are built is because they are part of the economic structure of america. It is the same economic foundation on which this country was founded on, slavery. It also makes sure that the children of said inmates are slaves also.

For those who complain that the youth are out of control you have to go to the youth. Alot of them are starving for attention. It isn't about preaching to them. It is about giving them a place of refuge, if only for a moment. If we allow them to slip between the cracks they will fracture the foundation of society. We will darken our own future.

The kids of parents who are in prison deserve a break
editorials and opinion
The Providence Journal
Thursday, August 23, 2007

There are some children who matter so little that no government agency bothers to count or keep statistical track of them. These are the children of prisoners.

Neither the courts nor the corrections departments are interested in the kids who are suffering under their offending parent's sentence.

What on earth does "corrections" mean if it doesn't involve improving inmates' behavior and prospects for life when they are back with their families and communities?

Actually, "corrections" is oxymoronic.

National organizations ask prisoners about their children. There is some data, but it's hard to verify. Researchers believe that at any given time, roughly 1.5 million kids in the country have a parent in prison or jail. About 10 million children now under 18 have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives.

Having a parent imprisoned clearly indicates domestic chaos and disruption. Children of inmates are statistically very likely to go to prison themselves. It's a wonder the justice system isn't a little more interested in them.

In her book of essays "Children of Incarcerated Parents," researcher Denise Johnson says that a parent's arrest and incarceration are so traumatic that they can "interfere with the ability of children to successfully master developmental tasks," meaning that their ability to learn becomes delayed. And these children have to overcome "the effects of enduring trauma, parent-child separation and an inadequate quality of care. The combination of these effects produces serious long-term outcomes, including intergenerational incarceration."

About 90 percent of these kids are living with the other parent or other relatives. The remainder go into foster or state care.

Who are these offender parents? Johnson and her partner editor, Katherine Gabel, write: "Incarcerated parents share the characteristics of other prisoners. They are low-income persons with limited education, job skills and employment histories; their lives have typically included separations from their own parents as children, substance abuse and exposure to a variety of traumatic experiences, including battering, molestation, parental alcoholism/addiction, domestic violence and community violence."

Prison then adds another layer of insult to those injuries.

When inmates are released, often they leave homeless and indigent, with no job, transportation or medical insurance. Sometimes they have only the clothes they are wearing. In short, they have fewer resources than when they went in, and more problems.

Now add kids.

Now add the angry aunt or grandmother who's been taking care of those kids.

And you wonder why our recidivism rates for prisoners are so high.

American justice seems more like retribution, when it could actually be restorative. But the courts are living proof of the cliche: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. With a different mindset, courts could take the attitude that a first nonviolent crime, especially one committed by a kid, is less an infraction requiring punishment than a red flag indicating trouble and a need for help. Ask, what is the red flag trying to say? Send community workers to find out.

Around the country, here and there, communities are experimenting with "diversionary" programs designed to keep people out of prison. Community workers go into the homes of juvenile and nonviolent offenders and work with family to see what's going on.

Women, for example, tend to go to jail for credit-card fraud, phony checks, shoplifting and drugs. These are crimes, for certain, but also more importantly, signs of distress.

Go see if the offender can be turned around with access to job skills, drug treatment and counseling. Aggressive efforts to save a family are a far better starting place than banishing a caregiver from a child's home to a prison that is vastly more expensive and destructive to the family. The immediate punishment is to forfeit the family's privacy. But the first priority should be the health of the family, not retribution.

If the situation is salvageable, restore -- correct, if you will -- the family. Conversely, if the community workers find that the parents are hopeless, terminate parental rights and release the kid for adoption as soon as possible. Prison cruelly delays such determinations, leaving the kids to bounce around with relatives or worse, in state care.

These diversionary programs get excellent results -- and are jaw-droppingly less expensive to taxpayers than prison. But they remain small because of our blood lust for retributive justice.

Of course psychopaths must be locked away. But there are respected means of assessing whether a person, with proper oversight and support, will be safe for his or her community. If we used these assessments, almost no women would be in prison. Wouldn't that be a mercy, and significant cost savings?

There isn't anything remotely corrective about "corrections." Public policies, made by get-tough politicians and administrators, are actively locking a portion of the underclass into generational chaos and distress.

They don't even count the kids. Doesn't that tell you where America's priorities lie?

(Julia Steiny is a former member of the Providence, R.I., School Board; she now consults and writes for a number of education, government and private enterprises. She welcomes your questions and comments on education. She can be reached by e-mail at juliasteiny(at) or c/o EdWatch, Education and Employment, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.)

No comments: