Bringing Partners into the Picture: Family-Strenghtening Programming for Incarcerated Fathers. Conclusions

08/31/2009

Partners of men involved in the criminal justice system face a numbers of challenges as they try to maintain partner and family relationships during the incarceration or to consider whether these relationships are worth maintaining. Supporting the couple relationship through incarceration and community reintegration is complicated by the competing factors of juggling job responsibilities and single parenting.

MFS-IP grantees offered a range of services to address the needs of partners in the community, from relationship and parenting education to case management, counseling, and practical supports. Recruiting women required adaptability on the part of program staff. To overcome motivation-related challenges, grantees worked to gain partners' interest and trust by persisting and investing time to get to know them. Emphasizing potential benefits for the couples' children and offering tangible participation incentives were also helpful.

Grantees overcame logistical challenges by adjusting the timing of their activities to accommodate partner work schedules; condensing programming into fewer, more intensive sessions; offering child care or concurrent activities for children; and providing transportation support and lodging as needed.

Delivering these services successfully in correctional facilities and community settings demanded further resourcefulness. Grantees built collaborative relationships with correctional facilities that enabled them to negotiate successfully for the space and staff time required to deliver programming involving partners; adapted their service delivery approaches to accommodate facility security requirements; built positive, collaborative relationships with facility administrators and staff; invested staff time in building trust and rapport with partners; offered basic participation supports, such as child care and transportation assistance, to retain partners in the programming; and worked to provide relevant, convenient services to partners in their home communities.

The ongoing national evaluation of MFS-IP grantees will provide opportunities to document the evolution and impact of these programs as they continue to adapt to the challenges of providing relationship- and family-strengthening services to families involved with the criminal justice system.

More Program Strategies for Enrolling and Retaining Partners
  • Upon enrollment, document the history of the relationship from the partner's perspective, including abuse, infidelity, or other issues.
  • Assist partners with permissions and transportation for visitation with the incarcerated partner (particularly "contact" visits, in which partners may hug each other upon arrival and hold hands during the visit) where possible.
  • Offer both couples-based and individually delivered class formats.
  • Supplement in-person work with support for alternative forms of communication, such as correspondence and video visiting.
  • Help meet partners' immediate needs through other, nonrelationship-related services, so that they are better able to focus on relationship strengthening.
  • Foster camaraderie among partners of incarcerated men by providing support groups and "aftercare" sessions in addition to formal curricula.

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