Children of Prisoners Can Be Saved
by Francis Koster Ed. D.
I am often asked how I can be optimistic when I spend so much of my time studying problems facing society. The answer is that no matter how big or scary the problem, I can find someone, someplace, that has figured out a way to solve it in a manner the rest of society can imitate.
1 in 30 United States citizens has been found guilty of breaking some law, and are involved in some way such as probation or parole in our justice system as an offender. At any one time, 1 out of every 100 of our citizens [i] are in behind bars - the highest percentage of any nation in the world.[ii]
And according to the Department of Justice, these people behind bars have children just like the rest of us. Who look to their parents as role models. 1 in 28 children have a "role model" parent who spent time behind bars.[iii] Hmmm. What kind of future does that indicate we are headed for?
Research done as far back as 2000 tells us that unless something is done, about 70% of the children of people who go behind bars wind up involved with the corrections system themselves.[iv] Digest that a moment - around 3 of every 4 children of a prisoner will themselves become a criminal. Unless something is done.
In 2000 three people - John DiIulio, Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Judy Vredenburgh, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode Sr., former Mayor of Philadelphia - met to discuss the dilemma of children with a parent in prison. Working together, they started recruiting mentors from 42 church congregations in Philadelphia, and the Amachi program was created.[v]
Due to its success in its early years, the program attracted the support of churches, politicians (President Bush was an enthusiastic supporter), and many other institutions. Although funding is now eliminated from the federal budget, it received federal taxpayer support between 2003 and 2011.
There are now more than 250 versions of this program working in various parts of the United States, drawing thousands of adult volunteers from many churches and other organizations.[vi]
One good example is the Amachi Program located in Texas, which started a program in 2006 where children of prisoners are placed in a special "Big Brother" program to have a second, more positive, role model. . In some cases, the "little brother" or "little sister" will be paired with a fireman, and during visits to the fire station, becomes "adopted" by the whole fire crew.[vii] The program works with children starting at 6 years of age (the oldest you can be to join is 14), and the average child stays in the program with their "big brother" for 23 months. The results are astounding.
When a kid acts up badly in school in Texas, they are sent to a special classroom or school so they don't disturb the other kids. Under the Amachi program, there has been a documented 88% reduction in the Amachi kids in the program being removed from the regular classroom. As far as imitating their parents, less than 1 in 50 of the Amachi children of prisoners has entered the criminal justice system - again, less than the national average. Better yet, 96 percent are promoted to the next highest grade - well above the promotion rate of the "normal" kids.[viii]
Due to its success at salvaging lives and lowering taxpayer costs for incarceration, the Amachi Program has spawned imitations in almost all 50 states
As a Futurist, I worry about the unfolding impact of modern society on the quality of our air, water, food, fuel, and health. I also worry about the future safety of our citizens. Since the early 1980's, we have quadrupled the number of our citizens behind bars[ix], and only taken baby steps to reduce the impact this has on the next generation of criminals and victims. Fortunately, Amachi and similar programs are showing us that we can invent a better, safer, and cheaper society.
[ii]Pew Trust press release "1 in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole, or Probation." 03/02/2009, contact Jessica Riordan 215-575-4886
[iii] Pew Research Center's Economic Mobility Project, September 28, 2010
[iv] U.S. Senate Report 106-404 September 8, 2000
[vi] Amachi: "People of Faith Mentoring Children of Promise", www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives
[vii] Amachi website http://www.amachi-texas.org/index.php
[viii] All statistics on the success of the Amachi program were gathered during a personal phone call with Ms. Olivia Eudaly, State Executive Director of Amachi Texas held February 15, 2012
[ix] Incarceration rate of inmates under state and federal jurisdiction per 100,000 population 1925-2008, Bureau of Justice Statistics.