Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Fathers in Prison: Impact of Parenting Education

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Fathers in Prison: Impact of Parenting Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

As the male prison population increases, so too does the number of children with fathers in prison. The negative impact of fatherlessness on children has been well documented. While parenting education is often seen as an effective tool to improve the quality of family relationships and foster positive outcomes for children, fathers in prison frequently are ignored or excluded from parenting programs. This mixed methods study examined the impact of short term parenting education on fathers in prison who were enrolled in a 3-day parenting class. A simple experimental design was coupled with individual interviews. Quantitative results indicate that fathers' knowledge and attitudes changed significantly with respect to use of corporal punishment and role reversal; qualitatively, fathers reported significant changes in other areas. This study has implications for prison parenting programs.

Introduction

As the male prison population increases, so too does the number of children with fathers in prison. Recent data indicates that the number of men in jail doubled between 1987 and 1997 (Garfinkel et.al., 1998). In the year 2002, the prison and jail population exceeded 2 million for the first time (Harrison, 2003). Many of these prisoners are also fathers. Turner & Peck (2002) identified 93% of incarcerated parents who are fathers. A recent life skills demonstration project with 1,284 male prisoners in Idaho found that 48% had no children; the other 668 men reported a total of 1406 children (Farmer, Purdy a Bushfield, 2000). The numbers are alarming, considering that children of prisoners are five times more likely to end up in prison (Mazza, 2002). Increasingly, children of incarcerated parents are becoming a larger share of the foster care population and those children living with grandparents (Johnson & Waldfogel, 2002).

The negative impact of fatherlessness on children has been well documented (Popenoe, 1996; Wallerstein, 1998; Braver & O'Connell, 1998; Bushfield, 2000). When father absence is due to imprisonment, there are additional risks. Confinement has been found to reduce post-release opportunities for prisoners, and for their families (Gehring, 2000). There is a cyclical nature to crime and low educational attainment. Adult children of incarcerated parents who are in prison are more likely to have low educational attainment (Harlow, 1997).

The importance of fathers in children's lives is not limited to contact and access; it is the quality of father involvement that is crucial (Parke & Brott, 1999). Children are negatively impacted by the lack of a father role model (Rudel & Hayes, 1990). With the large number of fathers in prison, fatherlessness has become more than a "private agony" (Hewlett & West, 1998, p.173): it is now a very public issue with educational, social, cultural, and economic consequences.

Literature Review

There is a large body of research supporting the notion that educational intervention has a positive impact on offenders (McKee & Clements, 2000; Jancic, 1998; Jenkins, Steurer & Pendry, 1995; Anderson, Schumacher & Anderson, 1991; Beck & Shipley, 1989). Prison-based education has been hailed as "crime prevention," and having a direct impact on recidivism (Pell, 1994). Clearly, motivation, educational or vocational attainment, and environment all have an influence on post-release success (Jancic, 1998). Anderson, et.al. (1991) identified additional variables of race, history of drug or alcohol abuse, marital status, felony incarceration (not a chronic re-offender), receipt of academic/vocational training while incarcerated, and employment as predictors of successful release.

While parenting education is often seen as an effective tool to improve the quality of family relationships and foster positive outcomes for children, fathers in prison frequently are ignored or excluded from parenting programs. …

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