Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

Four Years in Prison for Driving His Son to a Ball Game

In his 2014 book, Our Kids, sociologist Robert Putnam breaks down the ways that America is failing its less-well-off children. His isn’t a liberal or conservative story–a lot of the book focuses on the terrible impact that family breakdown has in perpetuating poverty (a conservative narrative) and how widening inequality means rich and poor kids live in completely different worlds (a theme of liberals). 

Putnam also notes a point that routinely gets ignored in discussions of family stability: the link between rising rates of imprisonment since the 1970s and the increasing number of single-parent families. Mass incarceration, writes Putnam, “has certainly removed a very large number of young fathers from poor neighborhoods, and the effects of their absence, on white and nonwhite kids alike, are known to be traumatic, leaving long-lasting scars.” 

It’s even worse for kids with a father on a sex offender registry. Once a father is back home after serving time, often-senseless restrictions make being a good parent well-nigh impossible. In that light, a story not long ago in a newsletter of Reform Sex Offender Laws caught my eye. (I’ve changed the names here to protect those involved.) Here’s the gist:

Jim was a schoolteacher convicted of having a relationship with a 17-year-old female student. He served almost two years in prison before being released on probation. He was permitted full contact with his minor daughter. But he was prohibited from being with his 12-year-old stepson unless he was with his wife or in public places–because they weren’t biologically related. Here’s what happened next.

“My son asked me to get tickets to a basketball game. The arena is a public place, so I knew this was okay. I got the tickets, and he was really excited. I drove my son to the game, where we met with a large group of friends. We all had a great time. Afterwards, we all went out for pizza and my son was so happy.

The next time I saw my probation officer, she told me I’d violated my conditions–not because I went to the game, but because I was alone with my son for the 15-minute car ride to get to the game. This technical violation resulted in a 4-year prison sentence–twice as long as [what I served for] my actual crime. But I’m ok with this because my son asked me to take him to the game. I may have been on probation, but that night I chose to be a father.”

Jim is back in prison. For 4 years. For driving his son to a basketball game.

Registrants across the country have stories like this–of restrictions that cruelly split up families for reasons having no logical relationship to child sexual abuse prevention. (See my story last year in Al Jazeera America for more like this.)

Putnam documents chapter-and-verse what splitting up families does to children. In the name of protecting kids, we’re actually making their lives worse.

3 thoughts on “Four Years in Prison for Driving His Son to a Ball Game

  1. Maestro

    This is why we need to do away with the probation dept. They are a useless waste of tax payer money and a legalized bully system that is used by the court with the HOPE that you’ll do SOMETHING to get sent back to prison for.

    Anyone who doesn’t agree with me that there is NO NEED for probation should take this into consideration:

    1) At our initial plea bargaining, we CAN refuse to take an offer of minimal prison time and ask for MORE prison time and NO PROBATION TO FOLLOW when released. Example: You’re offered 2 yrs, you say “No, give me 5 yrs with no probation after.”

    2) You can do petty little nonsense things against the “rules” of your probation like drink, take a walk in a park, or, like the man in this story, be alone with your minor relatives. You violate, and IF you end up doing time, chances are they’ll give you the max time that they feel in necessary and you come out to no longer being the job security of the probation officer. Chances are, this guy will not have any more probation after serving 4 yrs on the violation. And if he DOES…he either has a horrible attorney or he just didn’t know he could speak up and say something about not having probation after that long stint.


  2. Ric Moore

    Thank you for posting this. I’ll be cross-referencing this story to our website. I urge others to start doing the same. Consider it a Xmas present to


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