I have said it before
and I will say it again- FAMILIES ARE THE FORGOTTEN CONSEQUENCES OF CRIME. This is true for families of people at all levels in our criminal justice system. From a small misdemeanor to the horror of the killings in Colorado, families pay the price long after a prison term is served.
I work with families all over the United States. In many of these cases I have never worked for their family member who is incarcerated. I am hired to help families establish boundaries with their loved one while he is inside, help find resources for them and provide the must needed answers of how to move on with their own lives. I also serve as living proof that this can be done, and of course provide my insider’s point of view.
These families live with guilt, shame and many fear retaliation should they decide to in some ways support their family member. Truly guilt by association. Families are the only segment of our criminal justice system that have no representation and are not presumed innocent.
Should we blame the families, especially when they become part of the crimes like Cindy Anthony and George Zimmerman’s wife? Do we blame the family of Amanda Knox and John Hinkley who stuck by their children?
With crimes come consequences. One of the consequences that we read and see little about are the families. Families on both sides- victim and victimizer. Those consequences include the children of incarcerated parents and the cycle that often repeats should the child not have a good support system. This is why many prisons have good protocol in place for family visits and contact. Remember, most people inside a prison today will be released and the majority in less that 5 years. That brings up the problem of re-entry with families.
Many of those incarcerated assume that upon release all will be forgiven and they will automatically be back and bonded with their children. This is rarely the case. Re-Entry takes work and effort and must be very carefully handled. Yet another family consequence of crime.
The past weekend’s mass murders in Colorado saw the media immediately going after the family of the killer Holmes. But, in reality what would one expect these parents to do or say? Especially when they too were just hearing this news and are now victims. Is it possible they knew their son was “off?” Of course, but then what? Should we blame them, or have compassion for them? Families of infamous murder cases are a particular group in that they must also deal with media attention and in many cases fear for their own lives.
If anything good can come out of tragedy it is an open discussion. My hope is that the Colorado case does just that and helps to shine a light on families and crime and what our society can do to learn more about this taboo subject. I for one will continue to write about it and of course work with these families as part of my everyday practice. Think about them before you judge. What would YOU do? And how would you hope to be treated?
Wendy Feldman is a criminal justice expert, insider and family legal coach. She is available for private consultation on how to prepare for a successful incarceration, probation and re-entry. She is also available for media commentary and has appeared on shows from The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, Fox News, NBC News, CNN, NPR and Nancy Grace. She is a weekly featured guest in the syndicated America Now radio program. She may be reached at email@example.com.