Study Shows How High Incarcertation Rates Among Black Men Impact Their Families

More than 1.1 million African American men are imprisoned in the United States, and about 500,000 are fathers. Many of their fathers also served time in jail or prison, and studies have shown that it is likely many of their children will as well.

A new study by researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Social Work and Criminal Justice illustrates how incarceration is a destructive force in the African American community, especially for fathers. The qualitative study mined the feelings, perceptions, and experiences of formerly imprisoned African American men to identify how incarceration has impacted their relationships with their fathers and sons; their definitions of fatherhood; and their perceived roles within families, communities, and society.

“The fathers in our study expressed that reentry, recidivism, and employment were intimidating, frustrating, and frightening,” said Precious Skinner-Osei, an assistant professor of social work and co-author of the study. “Considering that 90 percent of all inmates will be released, these findings illustrate why greater emphasis on reentry is required. Furthermore, the data shows that more fathers, sons, and grandfathers are being incarcerated at the same time, and also supports research indicating that children with a parent in jail or prison are five to six times more likely to become offenders.”

Results also suggest that incarceration is a barrier for many fathers because the children’s mothers and maternal families decide if the father-son relationship should continue and to what extent, sometimes leaving the fathers powerless. Participants claimed that the mothers used that time to turn their children against them, which further strained the relationship post-release.

“Ultimately, fathers want the opportunity to be role models for their children despite past infractions,” said Dr. Skinner-Osei. “Likewise, children want fathers who are caring and protective of their well-being. Therefore, promoting interactions between fathers and children is critical pre-and post-release, as well as throughout the prison term, to facilitate emotional bonds despite physical separation.”

The full study, “Collateral Consequences: The Impact of Incarceration on African American Fathers and Their Sons” was published in the Journal of Forensic Social Work. It may be accessed here.

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