HHS/ASPE. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.Background

Incarceration and the Family:
A Review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families

Family Strengthening Programs

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Contents

  1. Marriage and Relationship Education Programs in Prison
    1. Group Classes
    2. Couples Counseling
    3. Furlough Programs
    4. Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated Fathers and their Partners
    5. Research Limitations on Marriage and Relationship Education Programs
  2. Parenting Programs in Prison
    1. Group Classes
    2. Group Therapy
    3. Programs with Children
    4. Other Efforts to Address Parenting
  3. Rehabilitation Programs
  4. Post-Release Family Programs
  5. Research Limitations

7.1   Marriage and Relationship Education Programs in Prison

Teaching incarcerated fathers and their partners relationship skills may help the reentry transition and reduce recidivism.

Given the potential deleterious effects that imprisonment can have on spouse/partner and father-child involvement, research into preventive interventions is warranted. Interventions focused on marital education, parenting behaviors, and other life skills have strong potential to strengthen families; lessen family conflict, dissolution, and violence; and prevent child behavioral problems and recidivism. This chapter focuses on marital, parenting, and family interventions and the evidence of their effectiveness by modality.

7.1.1   Group Classes

The majority of prison marriage and relationship education programs are designed as a series of group classes. They usually involve both incarcerated men and their partners, although the value of programming for men alone may have merits as well (Kaslow, 1987). Couples generally meet with a facilitator, clinician, or chaplain at the prison, with meetings sometimes structured around visitation times (Bauer et al., 2007; Markman, Eason, & Grant, 2005). Relationship education programs focus on a variety of content areas, including

Facilitator instruction is combined with videos, worksheets and activities, and role plays; couples are given the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills and discuss issues of concern with the help of the facilitator (Accordino & Guerney, 1998).

Evaluations are beginning to demonstrate evidence for the efficacy of relationship education classes in group settings. For instance, an evaluation of the PREP Inside and Out Program found improvements from pre-test to post-test in negative couple interaction, communication skills, relationship satisfaction, and feelings of loneliness; ratings of couple relationship outcomes were high (Markman et al., 2005; this example relationship education program is described in more detail in the box below). Additionally, a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the Relationship Enhancement program, a 2-day group program with prisoners and their wives that focuses on teaching nine relationship skills, suggested that the 90 participants from the program over the course of 3 years were very satisfied with the content and format of the program, its leaders, and its ability to help them improve their relationships (Accordino & Guerney, 1998). Program effects on relationship skills or marital outcomes were not assessed, however. Stronger and longer-term evaluations of marriage and relationship education initiatives currently underway have the potential to further inform the development of efficacious prison-based programs (Bauer et al., 2007).

Example Marriage and Relationship Education Program in Prisons

PREP Inside and Out
(Markman et al., 2005; Bauer et al., 2007)

The Prevention and Relationship Education Program (PREP) was developed to assist couples in developing strong and healthy marriages. The goal of the program is for couples to learn how to prevent or reduce negative patterns in their relationship and to enhance personal, emotional, and commitment safety. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has designated PREP as an official program to implement in its state prisons. Prison chaplains are trained to provide voluntary classes to inmates and their partners who are interested in learning more about relationships. The original PREP has been adapted for use with a prison population, including examples that are relevant to the lives of inmates, adherence to prison rules, and a schedule that takes into account visitation times. The 2-hour classes take place once per week for 6 weeks. The program focuses on communication skills, commitment, negative affect management, respect, mate selection, aggression, and positive connections.

A one-group pre- and post-test evaluation was conducted with 177 male prisoners, 162 of whom were in a relationship with a current partner and 40% of whom were currently married. The study found beneficial effects of participation in the program on negative couple interaction, communication skills, relationship satisfaction, and feelings of loneliness; ratings of couple relationship outcomes were high. A 30-day follow-up study indicated that benefits were maintained. Inmates are currently being trained to deliver PREP, and the program is required for all inmates and their fiancés prior to getting married within the Oklahoma prisons.

7.1.2   Couples Counseling

Similar to marital education in a group format, couples counseling workshops have been used in prisons to strengthen intimate partner relationships (Showalter & Jones, 1980). In these sessions with small groups of couples or one-on-one, discussion may focus on (1) changes experienced by each partner during incarceration, (2) communication skills, (3) deciding to continue or terminate the relationship, (4) effects of stress and tension, and (5) community resources and support (Showalter & Jones, 1980). Social workers may work with the couples and provide feedback on their progress (Showalter & Jones, 1980). Additional recommendations for topics to address through one-on-one couples counseling include inmates’ and their partners’ negative feelings and concerns surrounding the incarceration and separation, joint decision-making and problem-solving, issues related to co-parenting and the inmate’s relationship with the children, and preparations for reentry (Carlson & Cervera, 1992; Kaslow, 1987). Individual and group counseling efforts for incarcerated fathers and their partners have not been empirically evaluated; therefore the efficacy of this approach is unknown.

7.1.3   Furlough Programs

Male prisoners in Massachusetts who received furloughs were less likely to return to prison within one year after release compared with those who did not receive furloughs.

Another prison-based program approach designed to enhance relationships between incarcerated fathers and their spouses is conjugal visit or furlough programs. These programs involve extended (overnight) visits between incarcerated men and their spouses (and sometimes children) in separate on-site facilities, or temporary releases of inmates to the community for the purposes of reentry preparation. These programs are typically limited to prisoners who have no disciplinary history within the prison, and programs focused on family visits generally include prisoners who are legally married. These selection requirements yield a selective sample of incarcerated fathers who are likely to have better family relationships. The effects of enhanced visiting or furlough programs are mixed. For instance, a comparison of male prisoners released from Massachusetts prisons in 1973 (N=966) and 1974 (N=911) indicated that those who had received furloughs were less likely to return to prison within 1 year than were those who had not, even after controlling for selection factors in granting furloughs (LeClair & Guarino-Ghezzi, 1991).

Howser and MacDonald (1982) examined the effects of the Family Reunion Program in New York State, which was an on-site private family visiting program offered to inmates who were not eligible for the state’s regular furlough programs. The objectives of the program were to strengthen inmates’ family relationships and to facilitate their adjustment to the community after release. Accommodations in mobile homes were provided at the prisons, but families were required to provide their own transportation and meals. Evaluations of this program found high rates of living with family upon release (87%). Program participants also exhibited lower rates of return to Department custody (4%) than expected given the overall return rates of released prisoners in the Department (11%). In contrast, participation in the California Family Visiting Program, which allowed inmates to spend up to 2 days in private visits on the prison grounds with members of their immediate family, and the Temporary Release Program, which allowed inmates about to be paroled to make visits to their home communities in order to spend time with their families and prepare themselves for release, was not related to recidivism rates, but was related to fewer arrests and parole violations (28 and 29%, respectively, for participants in the two programs versus 43% for non-participants; Holt & Miller, 1972) Moreover, although a sample of 33 participants in the New York Family Reunion Program described above reported increased closeness with their wives and children, few differences between these participants and other prisoners who engaged in regular family visitation were documented in terms of coping, decision-making balance with their wives, or cohesion and adaptability (Carlson & Cervera, 1992).

7.1.4   Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated Fathers and their Partners

On September 30, 2006, with funding provided by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005,  the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Family Assistance (OFA) announced grant awards to 226 organizations to promote healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. Thirteen of these awards were funded under the Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Re-entering Fathers and Their Partners (MFS-IP) priority area. MFS-IP grantees include government (state, local, and tribal) and private (community- and faith-based) organizations. With a funding level of up to $500,000 per year for five years, the programs implemented under the MFS-IP priority area are designed to promote and sustain healthy marriages and strengthen families affected by incarceration.

MFS-IP grants support the provision of services to promote or sustain healthy relationships for couples with children, where one of the parents is incarcerated or otherwise involved with the criminal justice system (e.g., recently released from incarceration or under parole or probation). In addition to marriage-strengthening activities, grantees may deliver services that improve parenting and promote economic stability. Grantees must develop partnerships involving the criminal justice system and diverse community sectors. The grant also requires that program participation be voluntary and that grantees collaborate with domestic violence experts in the development of their programs.

7.1.5   Research Limitations on Marriage and Relationship Education Programs

Recently published reviews of the marriage-strengthening literature concur that, including lack of control/comparison groups, short follow-up periods, and use of non-standardized measures. Evaluation results are particularly limited for programs targeting racial and ethnic minorities (Larson, 2004), couples with low education and income, and couples with ambiguous commitments who have children out of wedlock (Markman et al., 2005). As these types of couples are more likely to face father incarceration, further investigation into marriage and family strengthening efforts for these populations are needed. An important first step would be to identify and describe the proportion of prisons that offer marriage and relationship education as well as the incarcerated fathers who take advantage of these programs. Additionally, evaluations of the types of programs described above should include larger samples, equivalent comparison groups, and longer-term assessment of outcomes.

Given the seeming dearth of prison programs for couples, future efforts can draw from other intervention models with similar populations, such as Behavioral Couples Therapy for substance abusing parents (Fals-Stewart, Birchler, & Kelley, 2006). The PREP Inside and Out and Relationship Enhancement programs are good examples of universal relationship education programs that have been adapted for incarcerated parents; stronger evaluation methods utilizing random assignment and control groups are needed to provide further evidence of the efficacy of these programs. More efforts to tailor existing evidence-based approaches for use in prisons are needed. New and innovative approaches also may be necessary to deal with the complexity of issues faced by incarcerated men.

Evaluations underway within the MFS-IP demonstration grants will yield important information about marriage/partner interventions provided during incarceration and after release. The 13 grantees are required to assess the extent to which their programs achieved their stated objective. Evaluation efforts primarily focus on knowledge gained from curriculum-based program components (such as parenting and marriage education curricula) and any changes in relationship quality (including communication and conflict resolution) immediately following marriage/partner education classes and workshops.

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7.2   Parenting Programs in Prison

Only 11 percent of fathers in state prison report ever participating in a parenting class.

Research indicates that prison-based parenting programs are offered to a minority of fathers. Eleven percent of fathers in state prison report ever participating in parenting or childrearing classes (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008). A 1999 report on state initiatives to encourage responsible fatherhood documented that only 11 states were implementing prison-based educational programs for fathers as part of their initiatives (Bernard & Knitzer, 1999). A recent survey of 315 state prisons found that 90% of female-only prisons offered or contracted out parenting programs, while only 41% of male-only prisons and 55% of coed prisons did so (Hughes & Harrison-Thompson, 2002). In 93% of the cases, these programs were offered on a voluntary or first-come, first-served basis. A recent U.S. Department of Justice report using data from 54 Departments of Corrections (48 of which were state DOCs) stated that basic parenting classes were offered in at least one women’s facility in 94% of DOCs and in at least one men’s facility in 85% of DOCs. In contrast, parenting classes with children present were offered to women in 26% of DOCs and to men in 11% of DOCs. Programs that take place outside of the secure prison facilities were only offered to men by three DOCs (LIS, Inc., 2002). It is likely that discrepancies across surveys in the proportions of prisons found to offer parenting programs for fathers result from different methods of identifying samples and measuring services for parents. Nonetheless, as preliminary evidence accumulates for the efficacy of prison-based parenting programs, broader dissemination is needed, particularly for fathers.

7.2.1   Group Classes

Like marriage- and relationship-strengthening programs, parenting programs most often take the form of group classes delivered in prisons (Brenner, 1999; Hughes & Harrison-Thompson, 2002; Jeffries et al., 2001). Such programs cover a variety of content, including

Facilitator instruction is combined with videos, worksheets, group discussion, activities such as stories and games, and role playing. In addition, a few educational programs invite men to read a children’s book on audiotape and send it to their children along with a personal message (Palm, 2001; LIS, Inc., 2002). Other programs combine structured classes with self-guided study material and special events and projects (Hairston & Lockett, 1987). Occasionally, programs invite the children’s mothers to participate in one or more classes (Jeffries et al., 2001) or have parallel groups in the community for custodial parents (Adalist-Estrin, 1994).

Few studies to date have examined the effectiveness of these types of interventions to improve parenting relationships among incarcerated fathers and their children. Most programs have asked for participants’ feedback at the end of the sessions. Fathers generally state that programs have (1) helped them learn new parenting skills and information about their children, (2) strengthened their relationships with their children and led to increased contact with their children, and (3) taught them the importance of their roles as fathers (Dunn & Arbuckle, 2002; Hairston & Lockett, 1987; LaRosa & Rank, 2001; Palm, 2001; Skarupski et al., 2003).

Some studies employing nonexperimental pre- and post-test designs have suggested the possible effectiveness of prison-based education programs to improve parenting knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors (Cornille et al., 2005; Hairston & Lockett, 1987; LaRosa & Rank, 2001; LIS, Inc., 2002). For example, the DADS Family Project offered face-to-face and videoconference sessions designed to build self-efficacy and develop parenting skills among incarcerated men. Participants in both the videoconference and in-person sessions showed a significant increase in self-efficacy for avoiding harsh parenting; those in the videoconference group also showed statistically significant increases in self-efficacy for permitting self-expression and not using physical punishment (Cornille et al., 2005).

Additionally, a few experimental designs with randomly assigned treatment and control groups and pre- and post-test surveys have been used. Assessing the effects of a ten-week group fatherhood class offered by the Fairfax County Department of Community Corrections, Robbers (2005) found that fathers who received the class experienced increased frequency of child contact, increased fatherhood knowledge and improved attitudes toward fatherhood compared with fathers who did not receive the class. Bayse, Allgood, and Van Wyk’s (1991) evaluation found improved family functioning and decreased self-focus among 54 incarcerated men who participated in a four-session family life education program that involved lectures, discussion, and homework assignments. The evaluation of Oklahoma’s Parental Training for Incarcerated Fathers program assigned 30 male inmates to either a control group or to a treatment group that received a 6-week parenting education and behavior management training intervention. Findings indicated improved parenting-related attitudes among participants in the fathers program but no significant impact on self-esteem or on children’s self-perceptions (Harrison, 1997). An evaluation of a popular prison-based parenting program for fathers found positive effects of the intervention on father-child contact but not on a variety of parenting attitudes and parent-child relationship indices (Skarupski et al., 2003; this example parenting program is described in more detail in the box below).

Example Parenting Education Program in Prisons

Long Distance Dads
(Skarupski et al., 2003)

The Long Distance Dads (LDD) program is a character-based educational and support program developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at the State Correctional Institution at Albion. The LDD program is designed to assist incarcerated men in developing skills to become more involved and supportive fathers. Trained inmate peer leaders facilitate the program in 12 weekly group sessions. The sessions are structured in a small group format (8 to 10 inmates per group) with at least one peer leader per group. The focus of the LDD program is on (1) promoting responsible fatherhood and holistic parenting; (2) empowering fathers to assume emotional, moral, spiritual, psychological, and financial responsibility for their children, both during and upon release from incarceration; (3) accentuating the psycho-social development of both father and child; (4) meeting the challenges of being an incarcerated father; and (5) increasing the knowledge base concerning fatherhood. A time series, matched control design was used to measure baseline and post-program changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors among LDD participants. The study had four components: survey of inmates, caregiver telephone interviews, face-to-face inmate interviews, and institutional data collection. At post-test, the men who participated in LDD scored higher/better than men who did not participate in the fatherhood program in two areas: (1) the average number of letters father reported sending home to children and (2) the total contact with child per year on average. This difference, however, was not corroborated by the caregiver interviews. While quantitative analyses indicated that the LDD program may not be reaching its potential, the qualitative results suggest that this fathering program has some promise. The program is quite popular with the inmates as evidenced by an extensive waiting list, and the inmates appear to be satisfied with the program and hold it in high regard. In addition, based on the random sample of inmates interviewed, approximately half gained knowledge and skills from the program and nearly 70% learned about dealing with anger. Thus, there is a solid framework of inmate support for the program. For more information, see Skarupski et al., 2003.

Additionally, more rigorous efforts are underway. For instance, an adapted version of the Strengthening Families Program, an evidence-based program shown to prevent adolescent risk behavior in high-risk families, is being implemented with inmates and their children in Maryland and is being evaluated for possible impacts on parenting skills, substance use, and arrest outcomes (Jeffries et al., 2001). An experimental evaluation of a parent training program, in which one group receives a parent training manual and another group receives the manual plus classroom training, involves interviews at baseline and 12-month follow-up with inmates, their oldest children aged 3 to 10 years, and the children’s primary caregivers (Eddy et al., 2001). Several other parenting programs for incarcerated fathers are also being evaluated, and the results of these efforts will help to improve services in the future.

7.2.2   Group Therapy

Group therapy or counseling sessions are another type of program that has been offered to incarcerated fathers (Jeffries et al., 2001; Magaletta & Herbst, 2001). The goal of these programs is often to empower fathers to improve their parenting attitudes and behaviors to prevent violence and enhance relationships (Jeffries et al., 2001). The Helping Offenders Pursue Excellence (HOPE) for Life program pairs fathers with juvenile offenders, so each can understand the other’s perspective, and involves the fathers’ family members in therapy when possible (Magaletta & Herbst, 2001). Clinicians suggest that group therapy sessions provide a solution to the problem of social alienation; allow fathers to access one another as resources; and help fathers learn that being available to their children while in prison, even if they cannot do things for them, is positive fathering (Magaletta & Herbst, 2001). Unfortunately, research has not been conducted to evaluate the effects of group therapy approaches with incarcerated fathers on parent-child relationships and post-release success.

7.2.3   Programs with Children

Some prison parenting programs involve children. These programs usually incorporate enhanced visitation and/or parent-child play activities, which may or may not be supervised by program staff (Adalist-Estrin, 1994; Brenner, 1999; Dunn & Arbuckle, 2002; Hughes & Harrison-Thompson, 2002; Jeffries et al., 2001; Landreth & Lobaugh, 1998). Such programs tend to be limited to fathers who have not committed serious institutional violations, are not sex offenders, and are not using substances (Dunn & Arbuckle, 2002). The goal of these programs is to improve the quality of father-child relationships by improving the atmosphere in which fathers and children interact. For instance, allowing fathers and children to have physical contact and play together in a child-friendly area is theorized to help them become more comfortable interacting (Dunn & Arbuckle, 2002). Also allowing fathers to have more private time interacting with their children may enable them to talk about sensitive issues and enhance their feelings of parental efficacy (Dunn & Arbuckle, 2002). A conceptual model of filial therapy suggests that supporting interactive child-centered play between fathers and children teaches fathers how to convey acceptance, empathy, and can help promote positive emotional bonds (Landreth & Lobaugh, 1998).

Preliminary evidence supports these approaches. For instance, fathers in the Living Interactive Family Education (LIFE) program, an enhanced visitation program in which fathers and children engage monthly in curricular and recreational activities together, reported in qualitative interviews and focus groups that the atmosphere of the program and the constructive parent-child interaction it promoted were important to program impacts. Participants also perceived improvement in their relationships and communication with their children, increased family unity, and development of life skills and improved behavior in their children (Dunn & Arbuckle, 2002). However, quantitative data measuring changes in such outcomes were not collected. In contrast, Landreth and Lobaugh (1998) examined the effects of a 10-week filial therapy program with incarcerated fathers in Texas using a randomized waitlist control design. Their evaluation with 32 fathers found significant differences between experimental and control participants with respect to their acceptance of the children, parenting stress, and children’s problem behaviors at post-test. Given that parenting programs in male-only prisons are less likely to offer enhanced child visitation than are programs in female-only prisons (Hughes & Harrison-Thompson, 2002), it will be important for future research to build on these evaluations in order to create support for the use of such services with fathers.

Evaluation results suggest that parenting classes can increase parental acceptance of children and reduce parenting stress and children’s acting out behavior.

Some family strengthening efforts focus solely on children of incarcerated parents. For instance, the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program was established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2003 to make competitive grants to applicants serving urban, suburban, rural, or tribal populations with substantial numbers of children of incarcerated parents and to support the establishment and operation of mentoring programs. Projects funded under this program link children with mentors, incorporate the elements of Positive Youth Development, and partner with private business, nonprofit, community–based, state, and local entities to support and enhance mentoring programs. This may include connecting children and families to additional support services. Funding supports the recruitment, screening, and training of mentors; the identification of children; the matching of children with suitable adult mentors; and the support and monitoring of the mentoring relationship.

In addition to the 13 MFS-IP grants mentioned previously, the Office of Family Assistance within the Administration for Children and Families/HHS has funded additional programs that target incarcerated fathers and their children under the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Promotion provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. These programs enable fathers to improve their relationships and reconnect with their children, helping fathers overcome obstacles and barriers that often prevent them from being the most effective and nurturing parents possible.

7.2.4   Other Efforts to Address Parenting

Other types of evidence-based practices used with children and families could be tailored to children of incarcerated fathers to reduce the deleterious effects of father imprisonment (Murray & Farrington, 2006). Recently, a review of fatherhood initiatives identified 35 effective or promising programs utilizing various strategies with diverse populations, yet only two of these programs focused on incarcerated fathers (Bronte-Tinkew, Carrano, Allen, Bowie, Mbawa, & Mathews, 2007). Nonetheless, several of the evidence-based program approaches included in the review and the characteristics that underlie their effectiveness might be effective with incarcerated fathers. More research is needed to adapt and disseminate these approaches within the criminal justice system.

Other types of interventions drawn from child welfare, physical and mental health, and criminal justice systems may also help alleviate negative outcomes in families affected by incarceration. Examples include communication about parental absence, stable care placement, contact with the imprisoned parent, and therapeutic services. Nurse home visiting, parent management training, multisystemic therapy, and multidimensional treatment foster care are all community-based parenting programs are other promising approaches. Financial assistance, cost subsidies, and prisoner employment may help to reduce economic strain among incarcerated fathers and their families. Finally, criminal justice-based approaches such as introducing anonymity of offenders, implementing restorative justice approaches, and using strengths-based sentencing can help reduce the stigma associated with incarceration that can be harmful to children and families. Future research should address the efficacy of these services with incarcerated families and examine how organizational climates and integrated service delivery strategies can facilitate these approaches.

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7.3   Rehabilitation Programs

Educational and job readiness programs may benefit partners and children if ex-offenders are more likely to find higher-paying and stable employment.

Because healthy marriages and positive parenting can be adversely affected by problems such as unemployment and substance abuse, programs that impact these domains could conceivably produce benefits to the family. Prison-based educational programs have been shown to increase annual earnings and lower recidivism rates (Steurer & Smith, 2003). However, only 15% of inmates reported receiving educational programs that addressed their needs. Educational and job readiness programs may benefit partners and children if ex-offenders are more likely to find higher-paying and stable employment.

Substance abuse treatment is another aspect of correctional programming that bears relevance for family life. Approximately 80% of inmates housed in state prison report a history of drug and/or alcohol use (Mumola, 1999). Substance abuse in the family is associated with poor parenting, parental conflict, and higher stress (Fals-Stewart, Birchler, & O’Farrell, 1996; Fals-Stewart, Kelley, Fincham, Golden, & Logsdon, 2004). Unfortunately, relapse after release is common. In the Returning Home Cleveland Study, Visher and Courtney (2007) found that 35% of the 300 men interviewed 1 year after release reported substance use. Men also reported that their substance abuse relapse was caused by relationship and family problems.

Interventions that treat drug abuse, particularly those that focus on the marital/partner relationship such as behavioral couples therapy (BCT), may hold promise for incarcerated husbands and fathers. In typical BCT treatment, the recovering client and his or her partner are seen for 15-20 outpatient sessions over the course of five to six months. BCT may also be conducted in a group format, with couples attending a series of 9-12 weekly sessions together. BCT with married and cohabitating couples (many of whom are referred through the criminal justice system) has been shown to lower intimate partner violence and substance use and improve dyadic adjustment and child well-being. It has been shown to be effective across a range of socioeconomic groups, as well as with racial and ethnic minority couples (Fals-Stewart et al., 2000; Kelley & Fals-Stewart, 2002; O’Farrell, Murphy, Stephan, Fals-Stewart, & Murphy, 2004).

Additionally, an evaluation of La Bodega de la Familia, a family-based program for inmates with substance abuse problems that is coordinated with pre- and post-release programming, found promising results for substance use and recidivism outcomes (Sullivan, Mino, Nelson & Pope, 2002; this example program is described in more detail in the box below).

Prison-based substance abuse treatment programs, particularly the therapeutic community intervention (TCI) approach, have been shown to be effective at improving substance use and recidivism outcomes following release. Knight, Simpson, & Hiller (1999) and Martin, Butzin, Saum, & Inciardi (1999) followed cohorts of incarcerated TCI participants in Texas and Delaware, respectively, and each found lower rates of re-arrest and reincarceration among treatment group members 3 years after release from prison, compared to comparison groups of similar inmates who did not participate in treatment. Butzin et al. (2002), analyzing data from the Delaware cohort, found that each component of the three-stage transitional treatment program (within prison, transitional, and aftercare) was associated with improved recidivism and relapse outcomes; however, the transitional residential component had the largest and most long-lasting treatment effects.

Example Rehabilitation Program

La Bodega de la Família
(Sullivan, Mino, Nelson, & Pope, 2002)

La Bodega de la Família, an experimental program in New York City, engages substance abusers and their family members in family case management and other services as a supplement to probation, parole, or pre-trial supervision. By providing support to the families of drug users in the criminal justice system, Bodega aims to increase the success of drug treatment, reduce the use of incarceration to punish relapse, and reduce the harms addiction causes within families.

To evaluate Bodega’s impact, researchers compared outcomes for a sample of Bodega participants with outcomes for a comparison group of drug users and their family members. Researchers used standardized interview instruments that measure physical and mental health, family functioning, and social support when study members entered the research and again 6 months later. The researchers obtained official arrest and conviction data on each drug user in the study and conducted more detailed, ethnographic interviews with a subsample of both the Bodega participants and the comparison group.

Family members participating in the program obtained needed medical and social services at significantly higher rates than those in the comparison group, and they showed a significantly stronger sense of being supported emotionally and materially in their social relationships. At the same time, the percentage of Bodega substance abusers using any illegal drug declined from 80% to 42%, significantly more than in the comparison group. Arrests and convictions were also lower among drug users participating in Bodega more than 6 months. The reduction in drug use was not produced by greater use of drug treatment among Bodega participants, but instead appears to be a direct result of pressure and support from Bodega case managers and family members themselves. For more information, see Sullivan et al., 2002)

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7.4   Post-Release Family Programs

To be effective, it is important to offer consistent support both during and after imprisonment. However, programs involving family during pre-release preparation and after release have been scarce and have been subject to limited evaluation (e.g., Bobbitt & Nelson, 2004). A thorough review of programs to assist with prisoners post-release did not include any that focused on partner or father-child relationships (Seiter & Kadela, 2003). Additionally, one study found that only 8% of fathers participated in parenting skills programs during the year after their release from prison (Visher & Courtney, 2007).

Family involvement in post-release programming is associated with decreased drug use, fewer physical and emotional problems, and decreased recidivism among fathers.

Some research on family support programs after release has found that family involvement in programming is associated with positive outcomes, including decreased drug use; fewer mental, physical, and emotional problems; and decreased recidivism (Visher & Travis, 2003). As mentioned above, La Bodega de la Familia, which provided crisis intervention and case management services to drug abusers involved in the criminal justice system and their families through release, found reductions in drug use and  recidivism and improvements in mental health functioning (Shapiro, 1999; Visher & Travis, 2003). Qualitative and quantitative interviews with 49 prisoners within the first month of their release indicated that families provided critical material (i.e., food, housing, and money) and emotional support, which was related to their post-release success in remaining drug-free and finding employment and stable housing (Nelson, Deess, & Allen, 1999). These studies indicate that it is important to involve families prior to release in order to put together a reentry plan (Bobbitt & Nelson, 2004; Festen et al., 2002). The family members typically involved in such programs have been parents, siblings, and other relatives of the offender; more effort is needed to involve spouses or intimate partners (Bobbitt & Nelson, 2004). For instance, Kaslow (1987) recommended addressing plans for reentry into family roles and relationships in the context of couples’ therapy with incarcerated parents.

Further efforts to involve family in reentry and post-release programming are underway. For instance, Project Greenlight is a pilot program in New York City that involved four weeks of family reintegration sessions focused on couple, co-parenting, and family-of-origin relationships. Sessions were conducted by a family counselor during pre-release preparations, and have since been provided in the community after release (Bobbitt & Nelson, 2004). The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is working to enhance family involvement in the continuum of incarceration, reentry, and post-release services by developing a Family Orientation Program at each reception center to provide information to families during incarceration, involving families in post-release supervision visits, and creating a Family Council to address family issues across the reentry continuum (La Vigne, Thomson, Visher, Kachnowski, & Travis, 2003). The Community Orientation and Reintegration (COR) program in Pennsylvania involves parenting education and reunification preparation during incarceration, individual and group counseling sessions around parenting skills and family strengths, and facilitation of family reunification in community corrections centers (La Vigne, Lawrence, Kachnowski, Naser, & Schaffer, 2002). Although process evaluations suggest that these programs are making strides toward meeting prisoners’ needs for family involvement and reunification, outcome evaluations have not been conducted to assess the efficacy of such programs in promoting family strengthening and enhancing post-release success.

Other types of programs for returning prisoners and their families that may be applicable to marriage and family strengthening efforts include diversion programs that help fathers pay child support; faith-based programs that connect fathers to services upon release; support groups for fathers’ partners; mentoring programs to support children of incarcerated fathers; and services that address more basic needs such as housing, food, and employment. Crossover between these efforts is needed to best support couples and families after fathers return to the community (Bauer et al., 2007).

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7.5   Research Limitations

Most existing evaluations of prison-based parenting programs are limited by small sample sizes and brief follow-up periods, and all rely on self-report measures, which raise concerns about the social desirability of fathers’ responses. A major research gap is understanding how to bring these programs to scale in criminal justice systems and preserve their implementation fidelity. Moreover, evaluations have generally not investigated program mediation to determine the pathways through which programs work and what core programmatic elements are most effective. Quantitative measures assessing intended outcomes over time are necessary to document program effectiveness. Evaluations of different types of programs, including individual and group counseling around parenting issues, are needed. Program evaluations need to include  larger and more diverse samples as well as assessments of children and other caregivers. Future work should also examine the mediating role of parenting practices in program effects on child well-being.

Almost no research has examined the effectiveness of family strengthening programs for fathers across the reentry period. Beyond program descriptions and estimates of the number of families that participate, there is little evidence that efforts to improve partner and father-child relationships upon reentry and after release have positive implications for father or family well-being or reentry and post-release success. Future work should build on the research that has evaluated the efficacy of prison-based family strengthening programs and the scant evaluation research on programs like La Bodega de la Familia. Specifically needed are studies that randomly assign reentering fathers and their families to relationship enhancement programs versus control groups and follow them over time to assess outcomes. Moreover, it is important to conduct evaluations of programs currently implemented in several states that begin during incarceration and continue after release, as this approach is predicted to yield the most positive outcomes (Bobbitt & Nelson, 2004).


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