With Father’s Day approaching this Sunday, I want to take a moment to introduce you to a few of the fathers, sons, and daughters whose parent-child relationships are being crushed by incarceration. Although incarceration may be an appropriate punishment for many violent offenders, we must end the one-size-fits-all solution of locking people up for long prison sentences for what often amounts to mental illness, drug addiction, or minor misdeeds where the punishment far exceeds the crime.

We have a generation of children being raised without fathers due to mass incarceration. More than 2.7 million American children have at least one parent in a federal or state prison (and this number doesn’t include all of the children with a parent in a local jail). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics nearly half of incarcerated fathers had been living with their children before their arrest. Let’s meet a few of them.

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Photo credit Dennis Taylor, Monterey Herald. A six year old boy and his dad share a Father's Day hug at Salinas Prison .
Photo credit Dennis Taylor, Monterey Herald. A six year old boy and his dad share a Father’s Day hug at Salinas Prison .
Photo credit: Micahel Macor, The Chronicle. San Quentin 2014 Father's Day visit between a father, his 8 year old daughter, and his 17 year old son.
Photo credit: Micahel Macor, The Chronicle. San Quentin 2014 Father’s Day visit between a father, his 8 year old daughter, and his 17 year old son.
Fathers Day at Folsom State Prison.
Fathers Day at Folsom State Prison.

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The photos are from a program called Get on the Bus, run by a California non-profit organization, the Center for Restorative Justice Works. Get on the Bus facilitates Mother’s and Father’s Day visits between children and their incarcerated parents. Because prisons are usually in rural settings far from where a parent lived before his or her arrest, visiting a parent in prison often requires significant time, money, and access to transportation. So, Get on the Bus provides free transportation to children and their caregivers to the prison. This Father’s Day, each participating child will get a photo taken with his or her father, meals for the day, a teddy bear with a letter from their dad, and post-visit counseling.

Typically, courts do not consider the children’s needs at the time of sentencing a parent. Perhaps if they considered the heartbreak, negative life outcomes, disruption to the children, and the long-term societal cost of breaking up families, courts might consider the alternatives to incarceration like treatment programs, house arrest, probation, community service, and restorative justice.