Academic journal article Fathering

Incarcerated Fathers: Exploring the Dimensions and Prevalence of Parenting Capacity of Non-Violent Offenders

Academic journal article Fathering

Incarcerated Fathers: Exploring the Dimensions and Prevalence of Parenting Capacity of Non-Violent Offenders

Article excerpt

This study explored the level and multi-dimensional nature of parenting capacity, defined as the personal and psychological qualities associated with positive parenting behaviors, in a sample of 196 fathers incarcerated in one state minimum-security facilia. The non-violent offender fathers in this study reported knowledge about parental empathy and beliefs about corporeal punishment parallel to what would be expected in the general population. A majority identified with and valued their fatherhood role. However; these fathers also reported depression, psychological difficulties, and personal adjustment problems that could diminish effective parenting and put them at risk for subsequent child abusing behaviors. Race and amount of contact with child during imprisonment were major factors associated with different parenting capacity dimensions. Research limitations and practice implications are discussed.

Keywords: incarcerated fathers, parenting, parenting capacity, fathering


Incarcerated fathers represent 92 percent of the parents who are imprisoned, resulting in a significant portion of the U.S. resident population under age 18 with a parent in prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Recent studies have suggested that incarcerated men often retain intimate ties, social and parental roles, and family commitments and expectations (Herman-Stahl, Kan & McKay, 2008). As with other non-resident fathers, incarcerated men can affect the development and well-being of their children through continued involvement in their children's lives from behind prison walls or because of their lack of involvement (Gadsden & Rethemeyer, 2003; Meek, 2007; Wilderman, 2010). Incarcerated fathers' capabilities for healthy parenting, as well as their feelings and attitudes about fatherhood, matter to their children, to their families and ultimately to their communities. Fathers in minimum security prisons are of particular concern not only because the greatest increase in the prison population is occurring in state minimum security facilities (Stephan, 2008), but also because these men have less restrictive and greater opportunities for contact with their children while imprisoned than do fathers in more secure facilities. Unfortunately, very little is known about the capacity of this group of incarcerated fathers to form or maintain meaningful parent-child relationships from behind prison walls (Dyer, 2005; Herman-Stahl, Kan & McKay, 2008). The examination of the potential of incarcerated fathers in minimum security prisons to parent effectively can best be approached by reframing paternal incarceration from a criminal justice perspective to a community/family perspective.

This exploratory study identifies five dimensions of parenting capacity from the literature on parenting and investigates the presence and the determinants of these dimensions in a sample of incarcerated fathers who volunteered to participate in a parent education program in a state minimum security prison. Insights into the fatherhood dynamics and parenting capacities of men in minimum security prisons can be used to inform and support policies and programs to enhance the parenting capacity of fathers and the well-being of their children both during incarceration and at release. Moreover, the use of standardized, normed instruments in this study allows the parenting capacity of this group of incarcerated fathers to be compared with what is known about the parenting qualities of fathers in the general population. This will help to contextualize and destigmitize fathers who are attempting to parent from prison.


Legal, social and political developments over the last several years, particularly the extensive use of mandatory minimum sentencing policies dictated by the War on Drugs for non-violent drug-related offenses, have led to subsequent increase in the number of people who are incarcerated (Balthazar & King, 2001; Bushfield, 2004; Hallinan, 2001; Herman-Stahl, Kan & McKay, 2008; King & Mauer, 2002). …

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