Viewpoint: More fathers equal less prisons

By Judge Thomas Dannheisser

“Judge, my grandson never had a father figure in his life. Judge, my son’s father was never in his life”. It’s a message repeated hundreds of times in Court when a young man is facing sentencing for many years’ incarceration for a serious crime.

Never has a mother said “Judge my son didn’t have a good school to go to” or “he never had enough money” as an explanation for the young man’s predicament.

It’s not that educational opportunities and finances aren’t important, but the science is settled when it comes to the single most causal factor contributing to the likelihood of a young male committing a serious crime.

It is the lack of a father in the home.

This undeniable truth was loudly proclaimed in 2008 in President Obama’s Father’s Day speech:

“…But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that too many fathers are also missing. Too many fathers are M.I.A. Too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities. They’re acting like boys instead of men.

And the foundations of our family have suffered because of it….You and I know this is true everywhere…We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime. They’re nine times more likely to drop out of schools, twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents because the father wasn’t in the home. The foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

Think of it. How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of the night with the sounds of gunshot or sirens? How many teenagers have we seen hanging out on street corners instead of hanging out in the classroom? How many are sitting languishing in prison when they should be working, or at least looking for a job? How many in this generation are we willing to lose to poverty or violence or addiction? How many?”

Unfortunately, there is an inexplicable and devastating silence in our community from leaders and citizens about this crisis.

Just in the past generation, out of wedlock births in Escambia County have rocketed from just 12% to over 50% and the resulting carnage routinely ends up on the front page of our newspapers. All too often we witness young males killing other young males.

Almost every time the shooter and the victim grew up without a father in their home.


This unrebutted statistic shows that the absence of a father results in a young man being 20 times more likely to end up in prison. According to the American Cancer Society this correlation is roughly the same causative relationship of smoking tobacco to lung cancer!

Can you image a community effort to fight lung cancer that doesn’t target or even mention… the harm of tobacco smoking?

The point is that behavior can be changed. Smoking rates have drastically been reduced resulting in remarkable reductions in male lung cancer rates. Bulations campaigns changing the habits of our citizens for the better. It was not a punitive effort. The antismoking campaign was an effective, consistent, and unapologetic educational effort.

The same can and must be done for the fatherhood crisis.

In a few weeks, Escambia county will open its new 840 bed County Jail addition. We have a clear choice. We can choose either to build more jails, hire more police, hire more judges…or promote and in fact demand responsible fatherhood. The best choice Is obvious.

More fathers equal less prisons.t this did not happen by accident, it happened by the entire community having the courage to talk about the obvious harm resulting from cigarette smoking. It happened through concerted public re