Cop on Pop

How mass incarceration derails Black fatherhood

Happy Father’s Day, Uncle Sam! Let’s talk family values. Let’s talk about how the number of fathers in US jails and prisons has quadrupled in the last 40 years. And how Blacks behind bars outnumber whites by 5 to 1. We’re more likely to be charged, tried and convicted — we also receive 20% more jail time than white guys for the same exact crimes.

Despite whatever stereotypes you may have learned, black fathers are not absent, uncommitted, or deadbeats but are unjustly being warehoused in prisons-for-profit. It’s a scam: lobbyists working for private prisons fund politicians to pass “tough on crime” legislation that guarantees a steady stream of tenants (and government contacts to build more jails).

Guess what? When you lock a man up, you’re not just trashing his life. You’re tearing his family apart. 92% of the more than 800,000 state & federal inmates are fathers. Over 1.5 million children have lost their dads to a predatory, discriminatory system.

Their kids suffer stress, shame, stigma – when a parent goes to jail, it’s the same magnitude of trauma associated with abuse, death, and domestic violence. Half the time, losing a father also means losing the family’s primary wage earner, too, so pile on financial hardships on top of emotional.

We’re not done. Some of these dads have custody, or share childcare responsibilities. Take him out of the picture, and there’s a very real chance his kids could end up in foster care. All these factors perpetuate the cycle of poverty, and the risk of incarceration. It’s sick, how we make innocent children suffer for grown-up crimes they had nothing to do with.

Who are these criminals, you ask?

25% of them – about 555,000 people – are locked up because they can’t afford bail (the vast majority are non-violent offenders).

Another 150,000 were picked up for various offenses related to homelessness (trespassing, panhandling, public nuisance, etc), and about 100,000 more were jailed for non-payment of child support or other court-determined fees/fines/charges.

So the real crime here is not having enough money!

Look, study after study shows that Black men – when they are able — make excellent fathers. Those statistics everyone from Bill Cosby and Obama was touting in the early 00’s, saying how there was a crisis of absentee fathers in the Black community – that’s all been debunked.

The surveys did not account for non-married partners, and made other simplifications that, when corrected, showed that Black fathers are actually more involved in their children’s lives than fathers of other races, including white folk.

“Black fathers (70 percent) were most likely to have bathed, dressed, diapered, or helped their children use the toilet every day compared with white (60 percent) and Hispanic fathers (45 percent),” the CDC study found. Also, more black fathers than white fathers took their children to or from activities and helped their kids with homework daily. When given the opportunity, Black men provide for their families in every way.

Unfortunately, responsible fatherhood only goes so far in this world of institutionalized oppression. Being here for our children doesn’t fix racist drug laws or police brutality, it can’t stop private prisons from profiteering on poverty. It won’t hold politicians accountable for pushing fear over badly-needed reforms in our criminal justice system.

But we can. Historic victories like Krasner’s win and the Derek Chauvin verdict are just the smallest steps forward — a tiny peek at the changes yet to come, if we stay united and focused in our goal. We all deserve safe streets and stable homes. There’s no reason we can’t have both at the same time.


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About Lorenzo Woodson 37 Articles
Dr. Lorenzo Woodson (Ph.D., RBT, CC, LBS) is a licensed behavior analyst specializing in clients on the autism spectrum. He lives in Germantown with his wife of 24 years, and lectures nationally for social causes. Lorenzo is a member of Men Who Care of Germantown. Connect with Lorenzo on Facebook or email him at

1 Comment

  1. Real talk, but the absentee father narrative was always another way to dehumanize black and brown folks so they can be fed into the expanded plantations the 13th amend. As written opened up. We alway focus on the 1st part of the 13th amend and ignore the 2nd part that describes who may be enslaved and under what circumstances.

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