Initiative to teach inmates how to be good dads

Published 11:18 pm Saturday, January 13, 2007

Officials say the statistics are clear: Children who grow up without a positive male role model are more likely to commit suicide, rape, murder or end up behind bars for any number of other reasons.

With that in mind, the state Department of Human Services and the Mississippi Department of Corrections are kicking off the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative next month. The program aims to give incarcerated dads the tools they need to become good influences in their children’s lives.

“It’s so awesomely important because there is a special connection between a father and child,” said Marvin Miller, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation coordinator with MDOC. “A child will subconsciously want to follow in a father’s footsteps, even if those footsteps are in the wrong direction.”

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The nine-week Responsible Fatherhood program will begin Feb. 2 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman with about 25 participants. Officials hope to expand the program to more inmates in the future.

The program will attempt to teach dads behind bars the importance of taking an active role in their children’s lives.

“The reason we need something like this is because in 1950 out of 100 children born, 12 were born into broken families. By 1992, 60 out of every 100 were being born to broken families,” said DHS executive director Don Taylor.

He said fatherless homes also account for most young suicides, high school dropouts, and young rapists and murderers.

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, who joined Taylor in announcing the program, said 70 percent of imprisoned fathers will have children who one day run afoul with the law.

Miller said it’s not uncommon for children to end up in the same prisons where their fathers spent time. There is one inmate at Parchman who has a son and grandson also incarcerated in Mississippi, he said.

“We want to give them another tool to keep in the toolbag,” Epps said. “One of the best gifts you can give a child is to be a good father and a good husband.”

The program will try to help inmates in areas from finding and keeping a job, to building a closer relationship with children who may have been alienated by the parents’ time in prison.