Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Rising numbers of children are affected by the incarceration of a parent. As of 2006, an estimated 7,476,500 children had a parent who was incarcerated or under correctional supervision, and the number of children with an incarcerated father increased 77% from 1991 to 2004 (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Families affected by parental incarceration face many challenges: separation, stigmatization, disruption in the home environment, and the loss of family income. These challenges have been associated with negative outcomes for children, including poor parental bonding, internalizing and externalizing disorders, and low school achievement (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2001).
Despite the increasing number of families affected by incarceration, few correctional facilities provide family strengthening programs (Day, Acock, Bahr, & Arditti, 2005). In fact, only about 10% of fathers in state prison report participating in a parenting class (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). This gap represents a lost opportunity to intervene with at-risk families to improve family functioning, particularly during the critical period before reentry.
Research on the effectiveness of parenting programs for incarcerated and reentering men is encouraging: participants report improved perceptions of the importance of fatherhood, increased parenting skills, and more frequent contact with their children (Harrison, 1997; Robbers, 2005; Skarupski et al., 2003). Other lines of research highlight the importance of father involvement for child well-being. In general, children with involved fathers are less likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, commit crimes, and become teenage parents (Mbwana, Terzian, & Moore, 2009). When fathers do not reside in the home, the quality of the co-parenting relationship and financial support from the father are still critical for positive child outcomes (Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2007). Most incarcerated fathers will be released back into the community, typically after serving 4 years or more in prison (Mumola, 2000), and research suggests that positive family relationships reduce the risk of recidivism (Visher & Travis, 2003). Thus, these fathers need skills and opportunity to establish positive contact with their children and co-parents during incarceration and to improve their chances for healthy family functioning upon release.