The recently released Democratic Party platform places "fatherhood" among its priorities. But a closer look indicates that the party may be willing to move forward on the problem of more than two million Americans in prison, and even more who have just left or are on their way back. (emphasis mine).

Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs and end up in prison. We need more fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what makes a man is not the ability to have a child-it's the courage to raise one. We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave.

Now obviously there are some other important points here, particularly on maternity leave, but I find it interesting that the Party chose to present its support for "transitional training," -- programs for men who are transitioning out of prison into public life -- as part of its family policy. The Reentry Policy Council estimates half of those one million adults in prison are parents. Children with an incarcerated parent are in considerably more danger of incarceration upon reaching adulthood than others, at least partially because, in many neighborhoods, it isn't simply one or two fathers or mothers that are missing -- it's most fathers (not always because of incarceration).

With the growing prison population, many of these children end up with a mother in prison as well -- a situation that can end in the termination of parental rights for both parents. The idea behind transitional programs is that they can help reform parents by giving them the kind of economic and social skills that they either didn't receive or may have lost in prison -- in order to provide for their family, and be better parents. The programs are also meant to reduce the recidivism rat -- currently 2/3 of the people who go to prison end up back in within three years.

Reforming the criminal justice system and, especially, pushing for investment in ex-felons, isn't usually very popular. But by framing it as a family issue, the Democratic Party may be indicating it's an issue they're interested in fighting for, and it's certainly a sign of Barack Obama's influence in crafting the party message.

-- A. Serwer

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