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.