Black incarcerated fathers’ connections with their children

Thomas, A., Wirth, J. C., Poehlmann-Tynan, J., & Pate Jr, D. J. (2022). “When She Says Daddy”: Black Fathers’ Recidivism following Reentry from Jail. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(6), 3518.

A new longitudinal study focused on 84 African American fathers of young children who were enrolled into the research during the father’s jail stay. Fathers participated in interviews and they completed self-report measures about the frequency of father–child contact, father–caregiver relationship quality, family support, paternal pre-incarceration employment, fathers’ plans to live with the child upon reentry, history of substance abuse, and new convictions one year following release from jail. The researchers looked up administrative records a year after the father’s release from jail to determine if they had new convictions or a new incarceration.

Fathers’ interviews reflected three parental identities that they could maintain during incarceration: father as nurturer, father as protector, and father as provider. They were able to maintain such identities through connecting with children through visits, phone calls, and letters.

When fathers planned to live with their children after release, more father-child contact during parental incarceration related to less recidivism a year after reentry from jail. How much contact they had during incarceration related to a number of family factors–especially their relationship with the child’s caregiver and whether they had extended family support.

Taken together, the findings highlight the strengths of African American fathers and their families despite the risks associated with incarceration, including the importance of family support and children as motivation for desistance. The results have implications for how the criminal legal system weighs the bidirectional influences of fathers and families.