Make it Quick: The Kids Only Have 24 Hours with Dad
Nightline’s Face to Face with Juju Chang presents "One Day with God" - a prison program that runs in seven states. Fathers have 24 hours to build memories with their children in the prison gymnasium. One father teaches the importance of cursive writing to his son, while another has an intimate moment dancing with his daughter. Chang summarized this precious day as follows: “Throughout the day, it’s clear that the dads are trying to cram years of parenting into a couple of hours.”
In-prison and re-entry programs are critical in maintaining healthy connections between fathers and children. However, we do have the opportunity to further limit the damage visited on children when their parents face a possible prison term. We talk about the best interest of the child but when we consider severing the parent-child bond when a father faces a prison term, we fail to take an inquisitive look at the impact a prison term will have on the family unit, especially children.
As shown in the video, children are not only deeply affected by the separation from their fathers, they also have a lot to share with adults about their experience of parental incarceration. The United States is the only country to not have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 of this Convention calls on state parties to ensure that children be heard in any judicial proceedings affecting children. The needs and interests of children of incarcerated parents should be considered during their parent’s criminal proceedings. Furthermore, given that almost 3 million children experience parental incarceration in the United States, policymakers should also consider the needs and interests of children of incarcerated parents as a group when drafting criminal justice legislation that will impact their wellbeing. “If the best interests of large numbers of children are at stake, heads of institutions, authorities, or governmental bodies should also provide opportunities to hear the concerned children from such undefined groups and to give their views due weight when they plan actions, including legislative decisions, which directly or indirectly affect children.” See General Comment 12 of CRC (2009)
It is time to refocus our attention on the children left behind as a result of parental incarceration. The children of incarcerated parents are the silent victims of our country’s tough on crime policies. By honoring the right to family unity for children who have a mother or father facing a possible prison term, by promoting alternatives to incarceration for parents, and by offering the necessary socio-economic supports to help families thrive, we can prioritize the needs of children, their families and their communities while improving public safety. Advancing family unity for all enhances public safety for everyone.