Recently my wife, sister, brother-in-law and I attended a celebration of 50 years of service by Friends Outside, which is a group that assists the families of incarcerated people, as well as the incarcerated family members themselves once they are released. At that gathering I picked up a flyer with the caption “Should a Child Visit an Incarcerated Parent?”, and believe that we all should be aware of what it said! In the first place, it said that “More than half of all adults currently incarcerated are parents of children under the age of 18. However, more than 10% of children report not having contact of any kind with their incarcerated parent(s) and more than one-half of incarcerated parents report never having a visit from their child/children. Yet visits to prisons and jails are often considered to be a positive experience for both the child and the parent.”

So here are some of the factors involved with visits by children to their incarcerated parents:

  • · Potential benefits: Face-to-face contact between incarcerated parents and their children can improve the children’s behavior and emotional health. For one thing, they usually worry less about their parent’s safety and well-being after they see how their parents are actually living, as compared to television-based images that often form their perceptions.
  • · What prevents children from visiting? Often it is the distance between the detention facilities and the children’s places of residence. On average, women are locked up 160 miles away from their children, while men are about 100 miles away. Other reasons include the costs of travel, resistance to visits by the children and/or their caregivers, and undesirable experiences during the prison visitation process (e.g. long waits or prison lockdowns). In addition, some inmates do not want their children to see them behind bars. This may be out of concern for the negative environment of the jail/prison, trauma of children seeing their parents subservient to the prison officials, or even embarrassment about their circumstances.
  • · When may contact not be desirable? If there is a history of any kind of abuse against the child by the incarcerated parent. Also, if the child does not want to visit or talk with a parent that feeling must be taken into consideration.
  • · What are the benefits of these visits? Parents who see their children while incarcerated are much less likely to return to jail or prison! In addition, visits and other forms of contact with their children often improve the prisoners’ mental health, decrease disciplinary problems, and increase healthy communication and the likelihood of eventual family reunifications.

In summation, I believe it is important generally for all citizens to understand these issues because, when it comes down to it, we are dealing with human beings. Along those lines, I still remember my takeaway from attending a conference sponsored by the Koch brothers in New Orleans many years ago about how we treat people released after incarceration, which was that most people cannot reasonably be judged by the worst thing they have ever done. Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, Lee Harvey Oswald? Certainly so. But most people? No! And it is my observation from my long time experience in the Criminal Justice System that people who have hope for their future, whether it is being able to get a job, restore family relationships, or simply to live a happier life out of confinement, have a far lower rate of re-offending than those who do not. (And, if nothing else, it helps reduce our taxes by reducing the expenses of incarceration which now, depending upon the type, is around $100,000 per year per inmate!) So assisting people after their release is definitely something to think about, both morally and financially. For further information, please contact Friends Outside at 626 795-7607.

Puzzle for the week: Did you hear about the snail who, while on a psychiatrist’s couch, said: “I have a dream about buying a new red sporty convertible, and then painting a large letter “S” on each door. Why? Because then when I whiz by people would all say ‘Wow! Look at that escargo!’”

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) Superior Court of Orange County, California 2012 Libertarian Candidate for Vice President

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