This paper draws on data gleaned from in-depth, repeated inter-views with approximately 200 low-income noncustodial fathers in two U.S. cities. It focuses on two social problems that have seldom been brought together in the same analysis: father involvement (both economic and relational), and the impact of men's involvement with the criminal justice system. In the sample, roughly one-third of respondents report being incarcerated at least once during their life course. The authors looked in detail at what these respondents had to say about how their involvement with the criminal justice system has affected their ability and willingness to maintain economic and relational involvement with their noncustodial children. They found that fathers believe incarceration has profound effects on their relationships, both with their children, their children's mothers, and others within their social network (their own mothers, for example) who may maintain some contact with the child. In addition, they looked at the accounts of men who have not been incarcerated, the vast majority of whom have been involved in criminal activity at some point in their lifetime. They gathered detailed job histories for each of these men, including both legal and illegal employment. They found that once men become fathers and choose to activate the father role with one or more of their children, their hierarchy of job preferences changes dramatically. The authors argue that children are among the most valued resources these fathers have, and that if they chose to activate the fathering role, the desire to remain involved in that child's life often changes their career trajectory, bringing them back into the formal economy, albeit at very low-level jobs. (Author abstract modified)
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