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

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