Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Associations and Predictors of Incarcerated African American Father's Relationship with Their Children

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Associations and Predictors of Incarcerated African American Father's Relationship with Their Children

Article excerpt

Typically, discussions about the effect of imprisonment upon incarcerated parents and their children involve women (Beckerman, 1994; Beckerman, 1998; Boudin, 1998). During a period when more attention was given to woman offenders, an increase in publications occurred in the scholarly literature about mothers in prisons (Baunach, 1985; LeFlore & Holston, 1989; Sametz, 1980). Then, the unanimous view of these writers was that men, in general, had no primary responsibility for children, and when men went to prison, they were unaffected by separation from their children (Baunach, 1985). Mothers, however, were said to suffer, and children were made to suffer when incarceration separated them (Baunach, 1985; LeFlore & Holston, 1989; Sametz, 1980). As a result, some prisons created nurseries and permitted children to stay with their incarcerated mothers, believing it would strengthen the parent-child bond (Modie, 1997).

If fathers were studied, the purpose was to investigate the extent to which crimigenic fathers passed on their criminal tendencies to their children (Morris, 1967). Virtually dismissed were fatherhood issues of incarcerated men (Boswell, 2002; Browning, Miller, & Spruance, 2001). Despite the early view that male prisoners are uninvolved in their children's lives, a policy of neglecting the role of incarcerated fathers seems ill advised. For instance, in South Carolina, a jury in a capital case heard evidence to determine whether an upper-middle-class White defendant, who had been convicted of murdering his wife, would be sentenced to die or serve a life sentence without parole. Two of the mitigation witnesses were his young children. Both tearfully told the jury and judge that they needed their father and wanted him to live. They indicated that even in prison they could, as they grow up, seek their father's opinions about important decisions in their lives and receive support from him. Based on their emotional appeal, the jury sentenced their father to life imprisonment without parole (CourtTV, 1999).

Knowing the role that incarcerated fathers do perform, a very small group of professionals wrote about fatherhood issues (Hairston, 1989; Hairston, 1998; Hairston & Lockett, 1987; Lanier, 1991). Hairston detailed the roles that incarcerated fathers performed, stressing that prison does not terminate the concern and love that some fathers and their children have. These articles, for the most part, tended to be more advocacy-related than empirical. The few empirical studies that have been conducted have not examined African American prisoners, a critical group because African American prisoners are incarcerated in high numbers (Dorsey, 1994; King, 1993) and have more children than White prisoners (Alexander & Nickerson, 1993; Kaplan & Sasser, 1994). Thus, an immense void of empirical studies exists in the literature regarding African American fathers who are incarcerated. Diminishing this void somewhat, this article reports associations and predictors of African American fathers' relationship with their children.

Review of the Available Literature

Hairston (1989) conducted a needs assessment of men in a southeastern prison in preparation for creating a parenting program. The needs assessment questionnaire gathered data on family variables, conviction variables, the degree of participation and interest in parenting, and the extent of other program participation. Among the highlights of Hairston's study were that 39% of the men reported being single, 31% were divorced, 5% were separated, and 16% were married. About 84% of the men reported being father, indicating a total of 246 children or an average of 2.4 children. Most men were serving lengthy sentences; that is, 34% had life sentences and 5% were on death row. In total, 70% of the sample had sentences of 20 years or more, life imprisonment, or death sentences. Men in the study reported that they seldom saw their children. …

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