Posts tagged ‘Absent Fathers’
by Jeffery M. Leving
A non-violent felony conviction has landed Juan behind bars for the next three years. As Juan is trying to adjust to prison life, his young son is trying to adjust to life without a father. Juan, like countless numbers of inmates in Illinois, is locked up in a correctional facility far from where his elderly mother, wife and son live. The high cost of transportation and related expenses make regular visitation unaffordable for the impoverished family.
Every time someone breaks the law, there are victims. While the system tries to bring justice to those victimized, new victims are created. The plight of the incarcerated fathers may not evoke sympathy in many people. However, I must point out that the grief and suffering of their children are exacerbated by a correctional system that is ill-equipped to address the pain of losing their fathers.
Research has shown that children whose parents have been incarcerated “experience anger, anxiety, inability to concentrate, depression, preoccupation with their loss, sadness, grief, shame and fear following the incarceration.” However, children who often visit their incarcerated parents and do so under favorable conditions “exhibit fewer adjustment problems.” As for the prisoners, those who maintain strong family ties behave better during incarceration, re-enter society with better success, and have a lower rate of recidivism.
Many correctional facilities in Illinois are remotely located from the Chicago population. The sheer distance discourages many families from visiting their relatives in prison. The high costs of transportation, food and lodging, not to mention the substantial amount of time involved, are additional inhibiting factors. Most importantly, however, the prison can be an inimical environment for children so that a visit there may be traumatic. As a result, many families opt for telephone contact. Unfortunately, telephone contact is totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it expensive for the families because all calls from prison must be collect calls, but also frustrating to the children because they do not see their parents.
Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers
For years, I have been warning of the damage done to children who grow up without contact with their fathers. Due to the large population of incarcerated fathers in Illinois, many children are growing up fatherless. Extensive research has shown that children whose fathers are involved in their lives perform better in school, complete more years of schooling, have fewer behavioral problems, have better cognitive and psychological development, experience less poverty, are less likely to drink and use drugs, and have better self-control.
As the chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood and as a fathers’ rights advocate, I have been pushing for the creation of a virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers in Illinois. This program will enable children to interact with their incarcerated fathers via real-time video and audio conferencing, eliminating the problems associated with traveling to and visiting the prison. Instead, visits can be scheduled in a child-friendly environment – with toys and appropriate furnishings and decorations.
I have co-authored an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to provide for reasonable visitation between a child and a non-custodial parent through electronic communication including video conferencing. This bill (SB1590) is awaiting a decision at the Illinois State Senate, and would give legal support to the virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers that I advocate.
Virtual visitation with inmates is not a new concept. The pioneer seems to have been the State of Pennsylvania, where a program began in 2001. The Pennsylvania Family Virtual Visitation, created by The Prison Society in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, provides high-tech video conferencing equipment that allows families to visit in “real time” with their loved ones who are incarcerated. For a small fee of $20, families can schedule a 55-minute visit once a month. According to The Prison Society, inmates, family members, and prison staff have expressed their support for and appreciation of this program. Correctional officers have reported that many inmates are better adjusted and seem happier after virtual visits. Virtual visitors express how important and meaningful the program is to the health and welfare of their families.
In Florida, there is a program called Reading and Family Ties, which allows incarcerated mothers to read stories to their children using live video via the Internet. The program has been credited with enhancing family unity, easing inmates’ transition back to society and improving literacy for both parents and children.
In Illinois, we, too, have had success with a pilot program for incarcerated mothers, but none for fathers. Through this incarcerated mother program, which was created through the partnership between the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Women’s Treatment Center, staff are available to the families prior to, during and after each visit to address their needs, and to ensure that the visit is child-focused.
A subsidiary benefit of virtual visitation for incarcerated fathers is the rehabilitation of the father, but the most cogent reason for implementing this program is the welfare of the child. It is past the time for Illinois to enact a law and establish a program that help the tens of thousands of children have a relationship with their incarcerated fathers.
More kids have died in Chicago between September 2007 and August 2008 than servicemen and women from Illinois during the same period in Iraq. A recent survey estimates the greatest fear Chicago schoolchildren have is “getting shot.”
Government officials, educators, and community activists debate continuously over the causes of the explosion of youth violence in Chicago — gangs, drugs, guns, poor school funding, etc. While all of those factors certainly contribute to the rising statistics on youth violence, the largest contributing factor that continually gets overlooked is absent fathers.
Studies show that school systems with above-average rates of father absence have nearly double the rates of school violence compared to those with below-average rates of father absence. Children who do not live with both parents are also more likely to carry a gun, assault another student and assault a teacher. To put it simply, father absence is the single strongest predictor that a child will grow up to be violent or fall victim to violence.
When male youths do not have a father figure in their lives, they often join gangs to fill that emptiness and look to gang leaders to fill that “fatherless” void in their lives. There is a critical connection between a father’s absence, juvenile delinquency and anti-social aggression in our youths. The likelihood that a male will engage in criminal activity doubles when he is raised without a dad. In fact, 72 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without their father (Characteristics of Adolescents Charged with Homicide, 1987).
Boys who grow up in broken marriages are more than twice as likely as other young males to end up in jail and each year spent without a father in the home increases the likelihood of future incarceration by 5 percent (Father Absence and Youth Incarceration, 1999).
Delinquency and crime are among the many damaging effects created by father absence. The solution to stopping the continued slaughter of Chicago children is to stop kicking fathers to the curb. Fathers who are not involved in their children’s lives need to step up to the plate and start building a solid lasting relationship with them.
But there are also millions of great dad’s out there in America that are being pushed out of their children’s lives. Gender bias and parental alienation are preventing many good fathers from getting involved in their children’s lives.
The solution to youth violence must begin with reuniting fathers with their children. Until this happens, every other measure that is taken is like putting a band-aid on a wound. We have to restore fatherhood as a societal norm in our community. It is an inalienable right for children to walk to school each day, play on the playground, ride their bikes on the street and not fear for their lives.
The Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood is issuing a call-to-action for all parents and concerned community leaders to make a commitment to restoring responsible fatherhood in our community. We have to come together to protect the future of our youth. For more free information, visit http://www.responsiblefatherhood.com.
Jeffery M. Leving of Chicago is the author of “Divorce Wars” and the Chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood.