Delivering community-based services required grantees to “reach out” to engage the partners of incarcerated men and to serve couples after release. During the male partner’s incarceration, grantees engaged women in the community in several ways: 1) making initial contact and conducting intake interviews, 2) bringing them into prison facilities to participate in joint relationship or parenting education with their male partners, 3) offering women-only relationship or parenting education courses in the community that paralleled those offered to men inside the prisons, and 4) providing individual assistance with needs such as housing, transportation, financial literacy, and prison visitation clearances for women and their children. In addition, some grantees also offered services in the community to both members of participating couples after the male partner’s release.
“The issues are child support, visitation, baby mama drama. So [that determines] the entities to link to. Most of these guys need help with child support, and if you can’t help them with it, then they don’t have time for that. It’s why you have to build those partnerships.”
—former MFS-IP grantee (MD)
To provide services to participants living in the community, grantees developed relationships with organizations specializing in community-based service delivery. Direct delivery of services in the community was not viable for correctional agency grantees operating exclusively within the physical boundaries of a facility. Even among human services grantees, many organizations were better staffed and networked to deliver services within the prisons than outside them. Therefore, grantees recruited organizations with expertise serving individuals and families in the local communities to which their participants were returning, particularly in the areas of housing, employment assistance, domestic violence response, and substance abuse treatment.
In recruiting community partners program staff encountered three significant challenges:
- Community partners’ lack of experience serving justice-involved men and their families
- Long delays between initial partnership building and release of first program participants into the community
- Differences in organizational mission or service philosophy
Programs that served families in a wide geographic catchment area post-release (two of the twelve sites) seemed to invest more heavily in the continuity of these partnerships than did those focused on in-prison service delivery and/or a smaller community catchment area. Community partnerships were also more likely to succeed when they were based on a working relationship that preceded the MFS-IP grant, when they were actively maintained through communications from the grantee throughout the grant period (even during times when no participants were being served in the community), or when community partners did not have to wait for MFS-IP program participants to be released in order to begin services.
Many sites struggled with community-based service delivery and made numerous changes to their community-based services during the grant period, commonly: 1) adding community-based relationship skills classes for women or couples in an effort to include women who were unable to attend prison-based classes, 2) adding new partnerships (such as housing, employment or child support agencies) to meet participants’ post-release needs, or 3) eliminating low-enrolling community-based services in order to focus resources on prison-based activities. As noted in Section 2, sites found it extremely difficult to recruit and retain families in community-based programming, and many did not continue to try. Several characteristics were evident among sites that did continue to offer these services (about one third of the grantees):
- Strong leadership commitment to offering services in the community
- Infrastructure for community-based service delivery (programming space, staff with time and skills to deliver community-based services)
- Access to a population of released men being served through other programs (either at the grantee agency or a partner agency)
- Strong referral partnerships with community-based organizations serving the same target population as the MFS-IP program
Yet even among grantees that continued to attempt it, few were ever able to build strong participation in community-based services.