Incarcerated men and women face substantial challenges to maintaining their marriages, relationships with their children, and other intimate relationships while incarcerated and when they reenter society. The marriage of an incarcerated man is about three times more likely to fail than that of one who is not incarcerated, and the likelihood of divorce increases with time served. Absence and low levels of contact, among other factors, strain prisoners relationships with their children. Incarceration also reduces the probability of subsequent marriage, especially among African Americans.
Research suggests that marriage is associated with lower rates of recidivism. Married men, compared to unmarried men, experience more successful transitions out of prison and are less likely to commit further crimes. Recidivism is undoubtedly related to factors besides marital status; however, marriage appears to be at least a key contributor, even in the more rigorous analyses that control for these other factors. Some studies suggest paths through which marriage might reduce recidivism: either directly by restraining men from translating criminal propensities into action, or more indirectly, by changing their everyday routines and patterns of association with deviant peer groups. A study of prisoners reentry found that men with closer family relationships, stronger family support, and fewer negative dynamics in their relationships with intimate partners were more likely to have worked after release, and less likely to have used drugs.
Although 90 percent of the incarcerated population is male, rates of female incarceration are rapidly rising. Less research has been conducted into the predictors and consequences of female incarceration, but existing data generally show that family process variables are the strongest predictors of successful reentry.
High rates of incarceration have fueled interest in services to reduce recidivism. In 2001, Oklahomas incarceration rate was the third highest in the nation. Concerned about both the social and fiscal costs associated with incarceration, Oklahomas Department of Corrections (DOC) began to focus on reentry programs to better prepare inmates better for release and to reduce recidivism. To explore whether relationship and marriage education might improve inmates ability to return to and maintain viable marriages upon release, the DOC approached the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) in the summer of 2002. With the OMIs assistance, DOC implemented a pilot which has since grown to be an official program available at all state prisons that have a full-time chaplain.