From Prison to Home:
The Effect of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities Prisoners and Families:
Parenting Issues During Incarceration
Creasie Finney Hairston, PhD
Jane Addams College of Social Work
University of Illinois at Chicago
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* The Importance of Family Matters
* Family Definitions
* Financial Difficulties
* Parent-child Relationships and Children’s Care
* Emotional and Social Issues
* Information Needs
* Prisoner-Family Communication
* Pitching in and Helping
* Policy Directions and Strategies
The preservation and strengthening of families has a longstanding history as a United States public policy priority and as a major objective of governmental agencies and not for profit service organizations. Social welfare policies and programs that help families protect, nurture and care for their children and adult family members are recognized by the nation’s political leaders as a social investment and many formal and informal efforts are directed toward that end. Notwithstanding the millions of families affected by incarceration on any given day, the well being of prisoners’ families and children has not been an important part of this social policy agenda. Similarly, services and activities that assist prisoners in carrying out family roles and responsibilities have seldom been included in the strategic plans of social services agencies or corrections departments. Several recent developments are challenging the historical treatment of prisoners’ families in public policy discourse and decision making. Among these factors are a United States correctional population numbering over two million and growing, unprecedented increases in the number of women prisoners, disproportionate numbers of imprisoned African American males, high recidivism rates, and the community reentry of hundreds of thousands of prisoners annually. Also relevant are efforts to address the tremendous cost of maintaining large numbers of children in foster care placements and of providing welfare assistance to poor women and children. These pressing issues have led politicians and social scientists alike to examine more closely the consequences of the nation’s war on drugs and, in so doing, to discover that incarceration has an impact that extends far beyond the men and women who are imprisoned. Consequently, questions are now being raised about the impact of imprisonment on children and families and the extent to which prisoners’ families might be resources and assets, rather than liabilities, in promoting safer, resourceful communities. Recognition that the majority of women and men in prison are parents of dependent children and concerns about intergenerational crime and children at risk have placed parenting issues at the center of these discussions. This paper provides an overview of family matters during incarceration as one means of informing public debate and actions in this emerging area of social policy and practice. The problems that families face when a parent is incarcerated and the strategies they use to manage those problems are described. The relevance of the maintenance of prisoners’ family and parental relationships to societal and family goals are discussed and the ways in which social policies and administrative practices hinder or support family maintenance are examined. The Importance of Family Matters
Social scientists and program providers define the significance of families and family ties to prisoners and to the achievement of social goals in numerous ways. The impact of incarceration on families has been conceptualized as a form of family crises (Fishman, 1990), loss and demoralization (Schneller, 1976) and victimization of children (Bloom and Steinhart, 1993). More recent work has focused on social capital and the impact of social...
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