Small scale implementation of marriage education in Oklahomas prison system began in 2002. As a first step, one prison chaplain was trained in PREP, the OMIs marriage and relationship skills curriculum. That chaplains favorable reaction led to the training of two more chaplains and the implementation of a pilot program in one mens and two womens facilities in early 2003. Chaplains were a natural choice for leading the PREP workshops because they frequently provide or oversee other rehabilitative programming. By design, each pilot site set its own eligibility criteria for inmate participants, such as marital status, length of incarceration, and release date. The pilot sites also varied in how they defined the details of the program: whether it was voluntary or mandatory; the size of the workshops; and whether spouses participated. The pilot was implemented in facilities of different security levels: one minimum and one medium security facility, and one with wards at each security level. All of these variations provided a broad basis that DOC could draw on for insights into alternative approaches.
Positive feedback from this pilot led to expansion. The chaplains participating in the pilot reported positive reactions from both male and female inmates, so the agency decided to adopt PREP as an official DOC program, meaning that state-wide implementation would be supported from the top down. Since pilot participants were positive about their experience regardless of marital status, release date, or mandatory/volunteer status, the DOC ruled that all inmates would be eligible, with the exception of sex offenders, those with no possibility of parole, and inmates in mental units.
In expanding Prison PREP, as it came to be known, the DOC had to give careful consideration to the circumstances of its inmate population. People entering prison, like others, face a wide range of circumstances in their relationships and marriage, and these may have implications for service priorities. Some are married and hope to maintain their marriage while serving their sentences. Others may be in an intimate but unmarried relationship, and also hope to continue it or even marry while they are incarcerated. Some inmates even meet partners for the first time while in prison. Finally, many inmates are not in any kind of intimate relationship. Regardless of their relationship or marital status, prisoners often have children.
In the face of the diverse situations faced by inmates, the DOC focused primarily on married inmates for the PREP program. The main reason for this focus is that married inmates experience a very high rate of divorce during incarceration. It is DOC policy not to encourage single inmates to marry during their incarceration (because such marriages fail at a high rate), but chaplains are permitted, twice each year, to perform marriages at their discretion. For these marriages, the DOC established a policy that requires inmates and their partners to undergo premarital counseling, a requirement that can be met by taking the PREP program. For all other inmates, participating in PREP workshops is entirely voluntary.
Expansion proceeded quickly. By the end of 2007, all DOC chaplains had been trained, and more than 2000 inmates had participated in the program. In addition, in order to meet the demand for services, three inmates were identified at two facilities to become trained and work closely with chaplains to teach classes. Currently the chaplain led workshops are provided at a handful of Oklahomas 17 state prisons. While all prisons with a full-time chaplain (usually the larger prisons) are expected to offer the workshop, some facilities lack a full-time chaplain. When inmates want to marry but resources arent in place to offer the class, the OMI provides a workshop leader from the outside to teach the workshop twice each year. This brief focuses on implementation at two mens and one womens facility where services have been offered at regular intervals:
- Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma, is an all-male medium security prison about an hours drive from Oklahoma City. With more than 1,400 inmates, this prison has been offering Prison PREP since 2003 and currently operates two programs three times per year: one for inmates who participate together with their visiting partners, and one for inmates who participate without a partner. The latter workshop is intended for both single men who are not in a relationship and men who are in a relationship but whose partner is unable to attend classes at the prison. Workshops are provided by the chaplain and a trained inmate.
- Jess Dunn Correctional Facility is an all-male high-minimum security prison with 982 inmates located in Taft, Oklahoma. It has offered Prison PREP since 2005 and operates a year-round inmate-only workshop for men who are not in relationships or whose partner/spouse is unable to attend classes at the prison. This facility is currently working towards implementing a couples workshop. Classes are led by the chaplain and two trained inmates.
- Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility is a minimum security facility for women in Taft, Oklahoma, with 718 inmates. OMI workshops began in 2003. No couples workshops are provided, but in addition to the standard PREP curriculum, inmates receive an adapted version of PREP for single women, known as Within My Reach, focused on how to choose better partners in future relationships. All workshops are led by the chaplain.