An op ed in today's Fort Worth Star Telegram ("Nudging a child away from a jail cell," Nov. 12) makes the case for expanding the program and reducing unnecessary incarceration to reduce the collateral consequences for children:
By all accounts this is a terrific program, even if the scope of the need for children of incarcerated parents nearly boggles the mind compared to the meager resources afforded the problem. I've argued before that focusing services and guidance for these kids might be the most important crime prevention strategy the state could pursue. As the Dallas News argued yesterday, the best way to "fix" TYC may be to reduce the number of kids who go there. More support for kids with parents in prison, no question, must be a part of that strategy to achieve success.
Studies show that children who receive positive one-on-one mentoring are 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 33 percent less likely to strike someone in anger and 27 percent less likely to use alcohol. And most important, successful intervention reduces the likelihood that these children will end up in prison.
Amachi -- the Nigerian Ebo word means "Who knows what God has brought us through this child?" -- is the creation of Wilson Goode, the former two-term mayor of Philadelphia and a child of incarcerated parents. First introduced in Philadelphia in 2001, the program is used in more than 273 projects in 48 states. Amachi Texas is the first statewide model.
The rapid growth of Amachi is both hopeful and alarming. On one hand, it tells us that it's effective and the issue is gaining much-needed attention. However, it is also a dismal reminder that thousands of children nationwide lack the guidance necessary to become successful adults.
As the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, I have witnessed the impact of this incredible organization through our partnership with Amachi Texas. But it's my personal experience as an Amachi mentor to Jamar that truly opened my eyes to the life-changing power of the program.
Jamar's father, arrested before Jamar was even born, is serving a life sentence for murder. When I first met Jamar, he was troubled, angry and prone to violence. Today, Jamar's attitude and behavior have dramatically improved -- and a boy who once idolized the prison lifestyle is looking toward a bright future that includes becoming a Big Brother himself.
Hundreds of stories like mine could be told. Each relationship endures unique obstacles and struggles. But time and time again, the results speak loud and clear--a small gift of attention and love is the difference between a life of crime and a life of hope for these neglected children.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone, 72,000 children have lost a parent to incarceration. These children have a second chance to receive positive guidance, love and support, thanks to Amachi Texas.Reducing the levels of incarceration benefits us all. By targeting this high-risk group, the Amachi program has the power to dramatically reduce violence and crime nationwide.