American Men in Prison: America's Real Fatherhood Crisis

American Fathers in Prison:  America’s Real Parenting Crisis


There are a lot of social commentary in this country every day about the crisis of American fatherhood.  We hear all the time about how terrible it is that so many homes in the U.S. do not have a full-time dad in them.  Blame is placed on the individual man, and the woman who bore his child, instead of looking at the societal factors that take fathers out of the home. One of these is America’s over use of incarceration to punish drug use and other minor, non violent crimes. 


In America today, there are over two million children with a father in jail or prison.  Over ninety percent of parents in prison are fathers.  The number of children with a father in prison has grown 79% since 1991. 


This is terribly adverse on children.  Children with a father incarcerated are likely to experience the criminal justice system and incarceration themselves.  These homes face economic barriers because of a parent being incarcerated and unable to support their children. 


Incarceration for delinquent child support is a feel-good solution that actually prevents men from staying employed and able to pay the delinquent child support. 


What should we do to support fathers and their children who are at risk of experiencing the criminal justice system:


1.        Make job training and education available in more neighborhoods and to more young men;

2.       Make sex education comprehensive and realistic to help more men plan fatherhood;

3.       Make drug rehabilitation and mental health services available and free;

4.       Stop using incarceration to punish low level crimes and non-violent crimes;

5.       Abolish the money bail system to allow more criminal defendants to be released on bond. 

6.       Decriminalize low level drug possession.

7.       Stop incarceration for delinquent child support.


We need to help fathers stay in the home.  Part of this is stopping the cycle of incarceration and allowing men to stay out of jail and at home with their children.


Happy Fathers’ Day!



Myths on the Mentally Ill and the Criminal Justice System

Myths about People Living With Mental Illness and their Involvement in the Criminal Justice System:

My Rotary Club this week, Austin Cosmo Rotary, ( is raising money for people living with mental illness to go to school and get skills to be able to become gainfully employed. In light of that, I thought I’d do an article discussing mental illness and involvement in the criminal justice system. 

More likely to be victims than perpetrators:

We hear a lot about “crazy people with guns” and the like, but according to several studies the mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.  In a study of almost 5,000 mentally ill adults, it was shown that only 24% had been perpetrators of crime, and only 2.6% of those incidents were in the workplace or school.  A significantly higher percentage – 31% -- had actually been victims of crime.  Nearly half of that 31% had been repeat victims.  The study is found here:

Mentally ill cannot be summarily forcibly committed: 

I get a lot of calls from people saying “my family member is off her meds; can we put her in a hospital or rehab?” The short answer is only if s/he is a danger to herself/himself or others.  This means there has to be a demonstration of violence or likely violence and/or an active suicidal ideation.  Mental illness does not rob the person of the freedom that everyone enjoys in this country to refrain or abstain from medical treatment. 

If a person is accused of a crime and mentally ill, the lawyer can ask for a competency evaluation done to find if the person can understand the system and the accusations enough to held to trial.  If the person is found incompetent, sometimes s/he will be hospitalized to restore his or her competency.  This may be done without the person’s consent. 

Collateral consequences to incarceration are HIGH:

Many mentally ill people legitimately receive government assistance to meet their daily needs.  This may be SSDI, food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid.  What is unfortunate and needs to change is that after a period of prolonged incarceration (six months or more, even if never convicted of anything) the receiver of these services may be cut off from services and have to reapply.  This can leave them in a very precarious situation without the ability to meet their basic needs and without treatment options. 

Having a diagnosis does not automatically get you a better deal:

In Travis County and other major counties, mental illness is taken into consideration when someone is charged with a crime.  In Travis County, we have a Mental Health docket in which treatment is often a condition of a plea agreement, etc.  However, just because someone has a mental illness does not mean s/he is going to “skate” on a charge and not be held accountable.  That is a myth.  It is also a myth that s/he will be without treatment in jail as the jail is legally liable to treat them, and in Travis County, the jail is indeed the biggest purveyor of mental health treatment and medication.


We can work together to find better solutions to mental illness than the revolving cycle of incarceration, homelessness, and instability.  Join me and Austin Cosmo Rotary Club to raise money for participants at Austin Clubhouse to get skills to help them work and support themselves.  We can find community based solutions to the challenges of mental illness. 

MLK Day: A Time to Continue His Work

Considering the Martin Luther King Jr commemoration tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to say something about the ongoing injustices facing Black Americans in the criminal justice system.


                I am not an expert in police brutality issues.  I do not litigate use of force issues nor any civil rights violations.  I will not really touch on those issues here except to say that in my opinion overcriminalization of Americans leads to far too many unnecessary encounters that escalate because of the high tensions that arrest, search, and seizure create.  If we weren’t being policed as heavily, we wouldn’t have as many encounters end in violence.  The over policing is a political issue that cannot be solved by law enforcement itself.  It’s a political and legislative problem.


                Black Americans constitute one million of the approximately 2.3 million people in prison per the NAACP.  This is nearly half in a country in which Black people make up 8%-10% of the population. 


                One in six Black men had been in prison as of 2001.  One in one hundred Black women had been in prison in the same year.  If incarceration of Black people continues at this rate, we can expect 1 in 3 Black men born today to be in prison at same time in his life.


                Black people represent about 12% of drug users in any given month but about 32% of drug arrests. 


                There is no doubt that incarceration as a tool of “correction” affects Black Americans deeply.  It is incredibly problematic.  Incarceration rates that high cause economic disparities in the community, taking Black men out of the earning and employed pool at higher rates than white men.  People who have been to prison cannot simply reconstruct their lives to the point as if it had never happened – they face permanent barriers to employment, education, and housing.  


                There is some evidence that perceptions of Black people as inherently violent and dangerous, and criminal, lead to higher traffic stops and street “Terry” stops.  It is probably true that white people carry drugs far more often than Black people do – but if the white people aren’t being stopped as often, aren’t being frisked, aren’t being searched – then they don’t get caught and arrested as often either.  So, Black people aren’t committing more crimes necessarily but they are being policed more heavily and therefore experiencing consequences far more often.  This racks up over a life time --- the more stops, the more likelihood for enhancements under “habitual” statutes (in Texas) or “3 strikes laws” (such as those in California). 


                It is also true that chronic denial of economic opportunity and development to Black communities leads to a higher rate of criminal activity among the disenfranchised.  Expansion of education and employment opportunities in Black neighborhoods and support of Black business would go a long way to seeing crime rates in these places go down.


                We need to use opportunities like Martin Luther King Day to continue conversations about incarceration and policing.  Decriminalizing nonviolent offenses would lead to a more free, equitable society and better relations between police and the communities they serve.  But to do that, we need to put pressure where pressure is due – with the legislators who make the laws and the elected executors who determine the priorities in enforcement and punishment.