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GO KIDS Articles

Parents Behind Bars

© San Marcos Record
December 25, 2006

Holidays missing something special for some children.

No matter what lies under the tree on Christmas morning, Hays County kids who have a parent behind bars will still be missing out.

Just how many such children are in this community is hard to say; what is known, though, is there are sparse resources available locally to help them deal not only with the absence of a parent but also the stigma associated with incarceration.

Also scant on the local level are programs helping them stay out of jail themselves. Statistics indicate children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to enter the criminal justice center than children who haven’t had a parent behind bars.

“I think there’s a great need,” said Marvel Maddox of the Hays County Adult Probation Department. “They are an at-risk group.”

Citing lack of a state requirement to do so, the San Marcos CISD doesn’t keep records of how many of its students might have a parent who is either incarcerated or on parole/probation, said district spokesperson Susana Hernandez, who also noted privacy concerns.

“A huge number of kids we see through counseling have one parent that’s incarcerated,” said Craig Corbin of the Greater San Marcos Youth Council. Though the council has no programs specifically for them, Corbin said several can be of benefit, including one-on-one mentoring and the S.T.A.R. program (Service to at Risk) youth and their families, which is primarily for truant or abused children but also serves “7 to 17 year olds living in family conflict.”

Under the Hays-Caldwell Council on Drug Abuse, there’s the Genesis program which Director Rick Camacho says can provide family and individual counseling so long as the family meets federal income eligibility requirements.

State programs also exist, but Maddox said his office distributes the flyers, which reference the “GO KIDS” program of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “It’s a place for resources to help offenders’ kids,” he said, “but I don’t know how substantial the help is.”

Corbin said his agency is seeing “more and more” children whose lives have been affected by incarceration. “Some have both parents incarcerated and they’re living with grandparents,” he said.

It’s a “special need” population whose needs are great. “They are missing the parent, for one thing,” Corbin said. “There are bonding issues because the parent just isn’t there. And some kids feel bad about themselves because they have a parent that’s in jail, like it’s a social stigma. And a lot of them would like to have a male role model if their dad is away. Boys especially need that.”

Corbin said most of the parents of the children he sees are jailed on drug charges. “It’s grown over the last five years,” he said; while Maddox said 39 percent of the adult probation caseload concerns drug charges. (Coming in second is driving while intoxicated at 24 percent. Assault including domestic violence accounts for 15 percent and property crimes, 22 percent.)

Camacho said there’s a “strong correlation” between teens who abuse drugs and/or develop addiction and a “family history of abuse” which “sometimes leads to legal problems and incarceration. Unfortunately it’s a very vicious cycle. Addiction is not just one individual, it’s generational.”

Recognizing that re-establishing bonds after a parent’s incarceration is a two-way street, the San Marcos Youth Council also offers the S.T.E.P. program (Systematic Training for Efficient Parenting) designed for inmates with children 18 years of age or younger who are nearing release.

Corbin said the seven-week course includes “everything from discipline to the growth of their child and what to expect at different ages. It helps them on discipline, helps them to make better choices and to learn the development of their child.”