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December 16, 2009

AG Holder spotlights the important connection between family values and public safety

I was pleased to see some important family-value themes stressed in this new speech by Attorney General Eric Holder at the "Fatherhood Town Hall" in Atlanta.  Here are some of the highlights for criminal justice fans:

More than 1.5 million American children have fathers in prison. More than half of these children are African American.  And we know that children of incarcerated parents suffer from: the physical and emotional separation; the stigma associated with having a parent detained; the loss of financial support; and the disruption caused by introducing new caregivers into a child’s life, no matter how well meaning those caregivers may be.  As a result, children of incarcerated parents often struggle with anxiety, depression, learning problems, and aggression, undermining their own chances of future success. We know that in many cases maintaining relationships with their parents during incarceration can improve the lives of children, and yet too often our policies have failed to support these relationships....

Research reveals that incarcerated men who maintain strong family ties while behind bars are more successful when they are released.  They have an easier time finding jobs and staying off drugs.  In fact, a recent study done for the Department of Health and Human Services found that people who were married or in committed relationships were half as likely to use drugs or commit new crimes after they were released from incarceration.

There’s a theme here: family connections improve public safety, and responsible and engaged parenting improve public safety. It’s time we started to think about this issue in that context....

This year, the Department of Justice awarded $28 million under the Second Chance Act for reentry programs.  These programs include grants to 15 states that will help formerly incarcerated people successfully transition back into their communities.  These grants include parenting training inside facilities and reunification programs for when people are released from incarceration.

I’m happy to note that in Tennessee, the city of Memphis has hired a family liaison who works with formerly incarcerated people to help them reconnect with family members when they return to town. In South Dakota, the Department of Corrections has launched a Fatherhood and Families Program to address the challenges faced by incarcerated fathers and to promote healthy relationships.  And in Oregon, Marion County is deploying an evidence-based parenting curriculum called "Parenting Inside Out," and a family reunification curriculum called "Restoring Relationships."  These are just three examples of how we’re shifting resources to support family reunification for formerly incarcerated people and their families....

In the meantime, we’re learning some important lessons.  We’re seeing encouraging results from parenting programs in prison.  Men who participate in these programs are more positive about their role as fathers, and they have more frequent contact with their children.  Relationship intervention programs have also shown promise in improving communication between formerly incarcerated parents and their children.

But challenges remain.  Successful family programs demand close coordination between criminal justice and human service agencies, and those groups aren’t always on the same page.  Often the distance between the family’s home and the prison makes contact difficult. And prison rules do not always allow for the best visits.  These are institutional problems, but they are not insurmountable problems.  And given the stakes, they are worth our focus and energy.

UPDATE (after reading a few early critical comments):  Because some commentors see this post as providing a basis for bashing our Attorney General rather than giving him credit for emphasizing family values, I now feel compelled to quote and stress parts of the speech linked above that precedes the parts previously quoted:

Those of us who are fathers have opportunities — big and small everyday — to take responsibility in the lives of our children.  We can spend time with our sons and daughters, we can help with their homework, we can teach them to play well together, we can get to know their friends and classmates, and we can serve as role models for how to interact with others and how to handle the challenges of life.  Stated simply, we can — and we must — assume the responsibility for being involved in our children’s lives.  And by being involved, and by being good role models, we each have the opportunity to impact our kids’ lives, as well as the future of our nation, in profound ways.

If we are truly to call ourselves "men" we must recognize that a defining characteristic of that word is the care and nurturing of those we bring into this world.  You simply cannot be a real man if you don’t do all that you can to care for those who have the greatest right to depend on you.  We cannot leave this awesome responsibility to the women in our lives and in our communities who too often labor alone, taking care of our sons and daughters.  This must end.

I know it is now common sport and a regular habit for folks with partisan views to start attacking the statements of prominent persons with the wrong R/D letter near their name no matter what those prominent persons may actually be saying.  But, at least in this forum, I encourage those inclined to attack to find the time to click a link and become fully informed before starting predictable partisan pot-shots.

December 16, 2009 at 10:23 AM | Permalink


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Family values are indeed important. First among them is to set an example for your children in living a responsible, law-abinding and honest life, and to take (rather than duck) responsibility for your behavior.

Is that what these fathers were doing? Indeed, were these fathers even living at home with the kids? Did they provide financial, much less emotional support? We know that the rate of illegitimacy in this country is staggering. Where were these characters when they weren't selling heroin or crack or knocking over the liquor store? Coaching Little League?

Holer's thinking bears the usual unexamined generalities featured in so many liberal programs. Isn't the obvious question, to be asked before embarking on a program like this: Was there a wholesome and responsible relationship between father and kids BEFORE the father went to prison?

In some cases there will have been, and there, this program should be applauded and encouraged.

In some cases the father will have taken no interest in the kids, have never lived with them, seldom or never seen them, or, when he did see them, abuse them physically, emotionally or sexually.

You have to ASK. You can't just ASSUME. And you have to ask one case at a time.

The idea that a person can become a good father through some government counseling program may not be completely preposterous, but it's close. The main thing you need for fatherhood is TO ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE KID. That comes from the heart, not from the government.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 16, 2009 12:42:57 PM

"Was there a wholesome and responsible relationship between father and kids BEFORE the father went to prison?"

"In some cases there will have been, and there, this program should be applauded and encouraged."

"You have to ASK. You can't just ASSUME. And you have to ask one case at a time."

Three absolutely correct, right on the mark comments.

It's watching a father where there was a wholesome relationship, who did coach little league torn from his family that fuels my support for alternatives to incarceration for some, not all but some, first time non-violent offenders. And to "borrow" from Mr. Otis's comments, you have to look at them one case at a time.

Darn, that's twice lately that I've agreed with you Mr. Otis. Continue making sense like this and I'll try for three. LOL

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 16, 2009 1:18:55 PM

News flash for AG Holder--up to 70% of the "fathers" in prison were not in their children's lives prior to their commitment as that is the non-marital birthrate in high-crime communities.

Holder should promote responsible fatherhood in the first instance as the nexus between social pathology and fatherlessness is inescapable. Such a stance would take courage and risk the approbation of the cognoscente.

Who is the coward now Mr. Holder?

Posted by: mjs | Dec 16, 2009 1:41:16 PM

mjs --

Right on the money, unfortunately. There are some problems the law cannot solve. Illegitimacy and the abandonment of parental responsibility by young men, particularly but not limited to the inner cities, is one of them.

This is what our degraded, no-standards, do-your-own-thing culture has brought us. The degradation is what needs to be fixed, and it ain't gonna be easy.

HadEnough --

If you're a Reaganite, and you like Clarence Thomas and David Patraeus, we're going to agree more than we're going to disagree.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 16, 2009 2:07:17 PM

I am and I do so once again you may be right.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 16, 2009 2:22:38 PM

Doug: Point well taken. AG Holder deserves credit for speaking in general terms about the importance of responsible fatherhood. However,he is not confronting the issue squarely when he talks about the importance of programs that help children reconnect with their "fathers". For the most part, those in high-crime communities were not resident fathers in the first instance. Resident fathers who provided a positive role model and supported their family prior to their transgression do not need government programs to help them "reconnect" with their families.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 16, 2009 4:10:24 PM

I wonder if Holder will push for court-mandated visitation for incarcerated dads.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 16, 2009 4:32:35 PM

federalist --

That is, I hope and firmly believe, beyond the court's power. The kids were not parties to the litigation, and the court has no jurisdiction to order them to do anything.

If you mean that the court should order the father to accept visitation, yes, it can do that, but I have to wonder how much good will be done when a father has to be ordered to accept visitation from his own children.

As I was saying, there a some problems the law can't fix.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 16, 2009 4:57:44 PM

Bill Otis,

There are some things the government can do. For one quit erecting programs that encourage parents to stay unmarried in order to keep money coming in.

If a woman has to mark down that the father isn't around enough times eventually it is likely to be true even if it wasn't the first time.

This is one area I believe SC has a valid point.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 16, 2009 4:57:51 PM

We should totally oppose having children spend time with criminals and dope fiends, either in prison or after release. They will learn to hurt people with 9's held sideways, to put themselves above all others, to bag school in favor of the full time Roman Orgy lifestyle of these criminals. This exposure to criminals should generate greater criminal skills, help the children to network with drug sources, to run high earning businesses at a young age, to have sex even before puberty, especially the daughters of these criminals. What a catastrophe, a perfect storm of pure evil.

Not one word criticizing bastardy by this criminal lover running our Justice Department. We are in the Twilight Zone of the Left. Pure evil is elevated as pure goodness, and decency is denigrated and bashed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 16, 2009 4:59:35 PM

I read the speech, and now I get it better. This is a sales pitch for more government make work quackery. He probably does not even believe the stuff he says. He is pitching a massive social program so his Democrat Party constituents can have jobs.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 16, 2009 5:05:29 PM

Thanks Doug, for talking some sense. Some of us still think that it is possible for people to change and improve, and that prison can do things to help those who are ready to accept help (rather than being a purely, 100% exercise in incapacitation). Maybe those of us who work with prisoners and ex-cons on a regular basis -- rather than relying on media, stereotypes, and general impressions for our opinions -- are more likely to hold such beliefs, because we regularly see people who have grown up and matured in prison and come out to live better lives (some due in part to support in prison, some in spite of the lack of such support).

Naturally, it would be pollyannaish to claim that all (or perhaps even most) prisoners fall into this category. Indeed, it is easy to focus on the deadbeats who cycle in and out of prison and will seemingly never take responsibility for themselves or their families. In a system with millions of prisoners, there are tens or hundreds of thousands of them. But in a system that big, there are *also* tens or hundreds of thousands who are ready to change, or may be reachable by mentoring, counseling, etc. I have seen it happen, many times, and the programs that provide such services in prison are not expensive. Further, the availability of constructive programs (rather than mere warehousing) also helps with internal stability and prison security.

I am really tired of the zealously self-righteous attitude that once you have done something wrong, you have forfeited any access to any benefit or opportunity. This is not only cruel and vengeful, it is socially unproductive. Rubbing convicts' noses in the dirt and piling on to criticisms about how society is going to hell in a handbasket may feel good, but millions of these guys are coming out of prison, and even if you think they don't "deserve" any assistance in turning their lives around, it is in your interest that they get some, so as many as possible come out with some plan for life, and some skills for coping, on the outside that don't involve burglarizing your house, mugging your grandmother, or worse.

Posted by: Observer | Dec 17, 2009 10:21:26 AM

Observer --

1. It is unlikely that a man who didn't give a hoot about his kids before prison is going to give a hoot about them afterwards. Maurice Clemmons was another one who claimed to have "grown" and experienced "spiritual uplift" in prison. Right.

They're not all Maurice Clemmons, thank God, but the phony claim of "growth" is just a stock, off-the-shelf assertion. That doesn't mean it's always false, but it always needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

2. With all respect to you, I continue to believe that caring for your kids comes from the inside, and cannot be a product of a government program no matter how well intended.

3. If it's self-righteousness you're looking for, read any ten anti-death penalty posts.

4. "I am really tired of the zealously self-righteous attitude that once you have done something wrong, you have forfeited any access to any benefit or opportunity."

I know a fellow, now in his sixties, who, as a young man, had a big mouth and a chip on his shoulder. He got into a fight with a state trooper, whom he beat pretty good, and went to prison for it.

He is now a close friend of mine, and my paid house manager when I am at my Hawaii home during the winters. He and his wife stay in my mainland house while I'm escaping the cold weather. In other words, I trust him with all my most valuable physical possessions.

As you can see, then, I am hardly among those (if there are any on this blog, which I doubt) who think "that once you have done something wrong, you have forfeited any access to any benefit or opportunity." But I am not credulous either. I trust this man because he has shown himself to be honorable, not because he went through some government counselling program (which, I might add, he could not and would not have tolerated).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2009 4:32:48 PM

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