More than 1.7 million children have a parent in U.S. prisons, says USA Today, citing the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of children with a father in prison grew by 77 percent from 1991 through mid-2007. And those children are two to three more times likely to wind up behind bars themselves, says Christopher Wildeman, a University of Michigan sociologist who has studied the effects of imprisoned parents.
To combat that trend, Louisiana’s Angola prison and other institutions across the U.S. sponsor two programs aimed at reconnecting prison dads with their children: Returning Hearts, a day-long carnival-like celebration where inmates spend eight hours with their kids, and Malachi Dads, a year-long training session that uses Bible passages to help improve inmates’ parenting skills. Inmates must show good behavior to participate, says Angola Warden Burl Cain. Once they feel reconnected to their family, their attitudes improve, he says. Around 2,500 inmates have participated in Returning Hearts since it began in 2005. Malachi, which started in 2007, currently has 119 men. “The ones who were problematic before are not problematic anymore,” Cain says. “Prison didn’t straighten them out; their kids straightened them out.”