Monday, November 12, 2007

Amachi Texas shows adult guidance can keep more kids with incarcerated parents out of prison

Children of incarcerated parents are around 6-8 times more likely than their peers to wind up in prison when they're adults, while roughly half of men and 2/3 of women in Texas prisons have minor-age children on the outside. So I'm thankful to see the Amachi Texas program - a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters targeting this group - gaining additional state support, including grants from the Governor's Criminal Justice Division.

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:

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.
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.


Anonymous said...

As a Case Manager of aggressive youth, I fully understand the ramifications of parents in prisons. Their children are angry, frustrated, lack basic social skills and are often underdeveloped in education. I have been fortunate to have meaningful, prosperous mentor-like relationships as a part of my job and I am thankful that these kids have learned to trust my motives as true and unwavering. Many times, they are so dejected and angry that they are unwilling to believe that there is any other life available to them besides the one they watched their families exhibit. Kudos to this program and the other ones out there that continue to knock down the walls that rejection and lack of love helped build!

Texas Nana said...

My son is in prison and has 2 boys, the older one 10 yrs, he has a lot of anger and sometimes isolates himself, he misses his Dad, but his mother will not let him visit him, I need some guidance as to what I can do to help my grandson.

Texas Nana said...

My son is in prison and he has 2 boys, the older one 10 yrs has alot of anger and sometimes isolates himself he wants to see his Dad, but his mother will not allow it, how can i help my grandson deal with this anger

Anonymous said...

My advice to the mother is to not be afraid of letting her son see his father. She may be afraid that the boy will idolize his dad, grow up to be like him, etc. However, unless Dad is abusive or has in some way earned the right NOT to see his son, the boy needs to see him. Understanding where dad is and learning that there are consequences to our behaviors can only benefit the child. Avoiding the inevitable will not assist the mother and will likely create a far greater anger in your grandson. Just my opinion...