Addressing the Rising Tide of Incarcerated Teen Fathers
Correctional facilities face the alarming fact that many young male inmates also carry the extra responsibility of being a father. This fact is especially alarming because reentry programming staff already have full schedules in addressing a variety of issues needed for a man’s successful reintegration back into the community. Some of these current factors are learning disabilities, poor education, mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.
Furthermore, a myriad of problems impair a young man’s chance of successful reentry even without the added challenge of fatherhood and family issues. To complicate matters even more, in many cases, these young men return to fragile homes and poor communities. Unfortunately, they are often not welcome in their communities and find it difficult to find a job. Simply put the lack of guidance through a minefield of dangerous opportunities lead most young offenders right back to incarceration.
When children of these inmates are added to the mix, the complicated issues become more convoluted and difficult o navigate. Children born to a parent who has been incarcerated are eight (8) times more likely to become incarcerated compared to children whose parents have never been incarcerated. Many state Department of Corrections find this problem overwhelming—before they can rehabilitate one generation, the next one is incarcerated.
Each year close to 100,000 juvenile offenders return to communities
Each year close to 100,000 juvenile offenders return to communities. For young offenders, post-release recidivism rates are incredibly high. Some studies have found that upwards of 90 percent have been rearrested within a three-year period. In most cases, these young men were re-arrested on a new felony, unlike their male adult counterparts, where the offense is most often simply a parole violation.
Another fact is that young offenders, more frequently than adult offenders, still have some connections to their immediate family. However, only about 1 in 3 of young offenders has those family connections. One federal study, the Survey of Youth in Custody, concluded that only 30 percent of juvenile offenders lived with both parents at the time of incarceration. Despite the challenges of families fragmented by incarceration, research demonstrates that families are an essential part of successful reentry and reintegration. Studies show that reentry programs that serve parolees with children are effective in improving reentry outcomes. A combination of improved attitudes of parental responsibility and development of parental skills combined with the informal pressure, motivation and encouragement of family members and program staff has proved to be a winning equation.
Efforts to improve a young offender’s chances of post-release success and improve the overall recidivism rate depend heavily on correctional facilities proactively advocating earlier and more often for comprehensive reentry planning and programming to include addressing responsible fatherhood.
For correctional facilities, targeting young fathers makes good sense
For correctional facilities, targeting young fathers makes good sense. National estimates put the number of incarcerated teen fathers in the range of 30 percent of the total incarcerated population. Many facilities “guesstimate” that their figures might be as high as 60 to 70 percent. Young men often hide the fact that they are fathers because they’re unwilling to accept the responsibility of fatherhood. Fatherhood programs, such as the InsideOut Dad™ program, are becoming an essential part of state and local reentry programming. Further, these programs are received well by the inmates and actually are some of the most popular programs in incarcerated settings.
Because most male inmates grow up with poor or non-existent relationships with their fathers, fatherhood programs, like the InsideOut Dad™ program, fulfill a vital role in their lives. Many inmates have never even seen a positive male role model. This fact is especially true in relation to positive father role models. The InsideOut Dad™ program helps to bridge this gap by addressing the critical areas of fatherhood and teaching important skill sets. However, because many of these young fathers often come into incarceration with less life experience, these programs must also must address some issues that most adult programs take for granted like: personal hygiene; how to tie a tie; and calculating the daily expenses of raising a baby, including food, diapers and baby clothes.
If young father offenders are to find any hope of succeeding at life and become positive forces within their family and community, correctional facilities must work harder to include young fathers in fatherhood programs. Proactive correctional facilities must understand that any comprehensive reentry program for young male offenders will address the eventuality that one day that many young male offenders are, or one day will become, fathers. The fact is responsible fatherhood begins before you have children. The next generation of young boys and girls is coming whether we like it or not. Will it be the generation of incarcerated mothers and fathers or the generation of healthy families? The corrections community has a lot to say about that if they remain vigilant in preparing inmates for their life and family on the outside.