Over 2 million children in the United States currently have an incarcerated parents and it is estimated that the vast majority of these parents are fathers. Because the ministry of Damascus Way is tailored to serve men, many of whom are fathers, it is important to us to draw attention to the ways in which family systems are adversely affected by the absence of a father and their separation from children.
This Father’s Day, it is important that the public acknowledge the harsh reality that, due to lengthy (and sometimes unjust) sentences, it will be the case that, “for many incarcerated parents, interacting with their children outside of a prison will be impossible for the rest of their lives” (The Sentencing Project). While certain privileges, like written or verbal communication, are not entirely eliminated, the ability to heal, maintain or restore a relationship with a son or daughter, is nonetheless strained at best and non-existent at worst. Some policy decisions have further hindered the possibility of a continued relationship between a child and their incarcerated father, by restricting parental rights (see ASFA – the Adoption and Safe Families Act). There are certainly instances in which a parent’s access to or communication with a child must be relinquished. However, it is well-documented that incarceration creates a web of “collateral consequences.” Researcher Lynne Hanney refers to the effects of consequences as “Incarcerated Fatherhood,” and by this, Hanney refers to a web of factors that create a cycle of bondage and havoc. This nebulous “entanglement” tends to create a system of “feedback loops of disadvantage that create serious obstacles for men as parents and complicate precisely those relationships proven essential for reintegration after prison,” such as, “familial relations of care, reciprocity and interdependence” (Lynn Hanney, “Incarcerated Fatherhood: The Entanglements of Child Support Debt and Mass Imprisonment,” American Journal of Sociology, Volume 124, Number 1).
Progress is being made and on this Father’s Day, we want to highlight not just the negative, but the positive developments occurring. Reforms in policy have created traction for the enactment of alternative ways to approach sentencing and incarceration. As The Sentencing Project details, “These reforms range from establishing family-based alternatives to incarceration to expanding services and ending SNAP and TANF benefit bans.” In recent years, various states have incorporated family concerns into sentencing and have allowed for potential alternative options to incarceration, such as supervision or treatment, as a means of mitigating the damage done to a family unit. Location and proximity are also know factors that are assessed in certain states, when determining correctional placement.
As you can see, there is a great deal of complexity to the subject of fatherhood and incarceration. At Damascus Way, we believe, that healthy families have healthy fathers. We believe that a man’s past does not define his future and thus we believe that all broken relationships can and indeed must be restored. Fatherhood has a role in shaping the destiny of a child and when that role is torn away, it can create a significant amount of trauma, which can often lead to generational cycles of trauma, incarceration and recidivism. While we cannot solve all these interrelated problems with the flip of a switch, we can begin with simple step of acknowledging that there is a problem to begin with.
This Father’s Day, we invite you to pray over the father’s in our program. Pray for continued healing for these father’s as individuals. Pray that this healing and transformation would ripple outward and touch their estranged families and friends and most importantly their children.