Local & Regional News
3:38 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

Children Of Fathers In Prison Face Isolation, Shame, Say Advocates

Inmates from a community correctional facility in Osceola sing spirituals in the State Capitol Rotunda on Friday

As Father’s Day nears, advocates for families of prisoners are bringing attention to the barriers that persist between incarcerated parents and their children.

Inmates from the North East Community Correction Center in Osceola made the long trip down to the State Capitol rotunda to deliver spiritual hymns as advocates detailed the ongoing struggles of children whose dads are imprisoned. Some from the choir of nonviolent offenders, like Christopher Brewer, were also moved to speak.

“I think all the time about what my kids think. Where is their father?” he said.

Children of the incarcerated often undergo periods of silence, stigma and shame, said Dee Ann Newell, director of Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind, an advocacy group.

“Nobody's really ready to put an end to [mass incarceration], even though we know all of the dreadful impacts of warehousing and locking people up, particularly non-violent offenders,” she said.

Newell’s organization focuses on providing services to inmates’ families who often experience significant declines in income and guardianship, while the children grow conditioned to dislike the sometimes impersonal nature of authority, the police and legal system. Fathers in prison also undergo a new sense of struggle when they are separated from their families, she says.

“Somehow, being behind bars, your children start to matter in a way they weren't mattering before,” she said. “So there's sort of a built-in lesson...to be separated.”

About 65,000 children in the state have incarcerated fathers. Newell says continued efforts to improve the foster care and place inmates in facilities closer to their families could be policies the state could continue to pursue.