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

  • communication,
  • emotional understanding,
  • problem solving,
  • conflict resolution,
  • affection and intimacy,
  • managing complex family relationships,
  • changing attitudes and behaviors,
  • assertiveness,
  • stress management, and
  • building trust and commitment.

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.

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