Incarceration and the Family: A Review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families. 7.3 Rehabilitation Programs


Educational and job readiness programs may benefit partners and children if ex-offenders are more likely to find higher-paying and stable employment.

Because healthy marriages and positive parenting can be adversely affected by problems such as unemployment and substance abuse, programs that impact these domains could conceivably produce benefits to the family. Prison-based educational programs have been shown to increase annual earnings and lower recidivism rates (Steurer & Smith, 2003). However, only 15% of inmates reported receiving educational programs that addressed their needs. Educational and job readiness programs may benefit partners and children if ex-offenders are more likely to find higher-paying and stable employment.

Substance abuse treatment is another aspect of correctional programming that bears relevance for family life. Approximately 80% of inmates housed in state prison report a history of drug and/or alcohol use (Mumola, 1999). Substance abuse in the family is associated with poor parenting, parental conflict, and higher stress (Fals-Stewart, Birchler, & O’Farrell, 1996; Fals-Stewart, Kelley, Fincham, Golden, & Logsdon, 2004). Unfortunately, relapse after release is common. In the Returning Home Cleveland Study, Visher and Courtney (2007) found that 35% of the 300 men interviewed 1 year after release reported substance use. Men also reported that their substance abuse relapse was caused by relationship and family problems.

Interventions that treat drug abuse, particularly those that focus on the marital/partner relationship such as behavioral couples therapy (BCT), may hold promise for incarcerated husbands and fathers. In typical BCT treatment, the recovering client and his or her partner are seen for 15-20 outpatient sessions over the course of five to six months. BCT may also be conducted in a group format, with couples attending a series of 9-12 weekly sessions together. BCT with married and cohabitating couples (many of whom are referred through the criminal justice system) has been shown to lower intimate partner violence and substance use and improve dyadic adjustment and child well-being. It has been shown to be effective across a range of socioeconomic groups, as well as with racial and ethnic minority couples (Fals-Stewart et al., 2000; Kelley & Fals-Stewart, 2002; O’Farrell, Murphy, Stephan, Fals-Stewart, & Murphy, 2004).

Additionally, an evaluation of La Bodega de la Familia, a family-based program for inmates with substance abuse problems that is coordinated with pre- and post-release programming, found promising results for substance use and recidivism outcomes (Sullivan, Mino, Nelson & Pope, 2002; this example program is described in more detail in the box below).

Prison-based substance abuse treatment programs, particularly the therapeutic community intervention (TCI) approach, have been shown to be effective at improving substance use and recidivism outcomes following release. Knight, Simpson, & Hiller (1999) and Martin, Butzin, Saum, & Inciardi (1999) followed cohorts of incarcerated TCI participants in Texas and Delaware, respectively, and each found lower rates of re-arrest and reincarceration among treatment group members 3 years after release from prison, compared to comparison groups of similar inmates who did not participate in treatment. Butzin et al. (2002), analyzing data from the Delaware cohort, found that each component of the three-stage transitional treatment program (within prison, transitional, and aftercare) was associated with improved recidivism and relapse outcomes; however, the transitional residential component had the largest and most long-lasting treatment effects.

Example Rehabilitation Program

La Bodega de la Família
(Sullivan, Mino, Nelson, & Pope, 2002)

La Bodega de la Família, an experimental program in New York City, engages substance abusers and their family members in family case management and other services as a supplement to probation, parole, or pre-trial supervision. By providing support to the families of drug users in the criminal justice system, Bodega aims to increase the success of drug treatment, reduce the use of incarceration to punish relapse, and reduce the harms addiction causes within families.

To evaluate Bodega’s impact, researchers compared outcomes for a sample of Bodega participants with outcomes for a comparison group of drug users and their family members. Researchers used standardized interview instruments that measure physical and mental health, family functioning, and social support when study members entered the research and again 6 months later. The researchers obtained official arrest and conviction data on each drug user in the study and conducted more detailed, ethnographic interviews with a subsample of both the Bodega participants and the comparison group.

Family members participating in the program obtained needed medical and social services at significantly higher rates than those in the comparison group, and they showed a significantly stronger sense of being supported emotionally and materially in their social relationships. At the same time, the percentage of Bodega substance abusers using any illegal drug declined from 80% to 42%, significantly more than in the comparison group. Arrests and convictions were also lower among drug users participating in Bodega more than 6 months. The reduction in drug use was not produced by greater use of drug treatment among Bodega participants, but instead appears to be a direct result of pressure and support from Bodega case managers and family members themselves. For more information, see Sullivan et al., 2002)

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