Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To prevent crime, focus resources on children of incarcerated parents

Because children of incarcerated parents are 6-8 times more likely than their peers to wind up in prison themselves, I've long believed that whenever the state chooses to incarcerate a parent of a minor child, a rational crime prevention strategy would focus significant resources for psych counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and other services for their children.

That's the implication to me of a story in USA Today ("For many of USA's inmates, crime runs in the family," Jan. 29) about the extensive family ties among prisoners.

Crime, just like affluence, tends to run in families. "In Texas, which has executed six sets of siblings, there are two sets of cousins on death row. An additional dozen or so death row inmates have relatives serving time in other parts of the state prison system, spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says."

While I don't believe one's bad childhood should excuse criminal behavior, when we know that childhood influences contribute to crime, particularly among children of incarcerated parents, it makes good sense to focus prevention resources there.

RELATED: An alert reader points out that strategies used by the nonprofit described in this Grits post might be a good model, at least a starting point, for a county level program aimed at children of incarcerated parents.


Anonymous said...

perhaps someone should ask Ms Lyons exactly how many inmates in the WHOLE of TDCJ have a sibling/parent/child/cousin also in TDCJ. The figure, I'm sure, would be news-worthy.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I would be very interesting to know what the recidivism rate is among inmates with "relatives" in prison now or in the past compared to prisoners who have no family members - past or present - in prison. It would be important to break the data down one more step to indicate gender.

Has Texas created a stealth welfare system in it's incarceration patterns? In the economic depression of the 1930's, panhandlers and hobos were a visible problem that politicians helped solve with programs of the new deal.

Putting the economically disadvantaged in prison effectively hides them away and all the politicians have to do is continue to be "tough on crime".

This sort of investigation would make a great Doctoral thesis and a lot of folks would be better off as a result.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has worked in Juvenile Probation or the TYC knows that a significant number of our clients have one or both parents in prison. Many others have aunts, uncles, cousins and older siblings in prison.

We as a society have a moral and ethical obligation to protect and nurture the children of our society. When one considers the cost to incarcerate one youth in the TYC per day, prevention efforts seem cheap indeed! This is one case where doing the morally right thing also makes good economic sense. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

I find it somewhat disheartening that when there is a post about TYC, there are dozens of comments, but when you post something about prevention, it gets nary a nod. That says something about mindsets.

Anonymous said...

@ 5.30pm ~ I agree with you. The TYC specific posts get a huge munber of responses, yet the only way to make real changes in Texas is to see the thing as a whole and work to fix all the parts that dont work - inside AND outside corrections. Its just not good enough to say "we need to save the children; the ones already in TDCJ are beyond help" because it's the ones already in TDCJ who could come home who are the ones needed to keep their own kids out of the system.

Its also a common thing for children to be closer to their grandparents than their parents. With the numbers of geriatric TDCJ inmates (scarily, that's any inmate aged over 55) the access to grandparents in some children's lives is also sorely lacking.

Here's a challenge for you: why not work to match children in TYC with elderly inmates in TDCJ (doesnt matter if they are related or not, but if they are then great) and try and improve communications between those two groups.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting concept, Sunray.

I think the biggest problem in this state, and in most of the country, is that we are focused too much on punishment, and not enough on prevention.

This really bothers me as a Christian in the midst of the so-called "Bible belt." It seems that most people who call themselves Christians spend too much time on a few select passages of the Old Testament and don't spend enough time reading the Gospels. Old Salty

Murray Newman said...

I think one of the most heartbreaking elements of the Criminal Justice System is what happens to the children of defendants. Working in the Harris County Criminal Courthouse on a daily basis, we see Defendants constantly bringing their small children to court with them. It's horribly upsetting, because it seeems that these children just won't have a chance in life.
I'd gladly support any real ideas to help these kids. Not just for the idea of keeping them out of legal trouble, but giving them a chance to have the childhood that all kids deserve.

Anonymous said...

When TYC had an Office of Prevention, I know the staff there were working on programs for kids whose parents were incarcerated. Not only were they working on programs for kids whose parents were incarcerated in TDCJ but also on bringing parenting programs in to TYC for youth who were already parents. Most of the research says that kids whose parents are incarcerated are 6-7 times more likely to end up in prison themselves if they don't receive preventive services....


Anonymous said...

In a similar note I would like to revive an old post

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bexar partners with religious charity to divert youth from TYC

Texas needs to pay attention to what these organizations are doing and mirror them in government services.

Anonymous said...

The Angel Tree project is an interdenominational program to provide some positive experiences for children whose parents are incarcerated. In many communities, Walmart cooperates by setting up space to allow Angel Tree volunteers to collect presents for these kids at Christmas - but it goes far deeper than that. There are volunteer mentors and tutors and sponsored weeks at Summer Camps. To give an example of the inter-faith cooperation in this program, two of the leaders in the Houston & East Texas region are Emmit Solomon of Lovelady (a Baptist and former head Chaplain for TDCJ) and Bishop Suffragan Rayford High of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.