Strategies for Building Healthy Relationship Skills Among Couples Affected by Incarceration. Couple-Based Programming


Most grantees offered couples-based programming for their relationship education classes.  In couples-based programs, the non-incarcerated partner went into the prison or jail to participate in the classes with the incarcerated partner.  This model required complex logistical arrangements to bring women into the correctional facilities.  Challenges included both the partners travel and scheduling difficulties as well as the facility clearance process and supervision time required.  As a result of these barriers, most grantees delivered couples-based programming in a single weekend retreat.  In these sites (the Indiana, South Dakota, Texas, New York, and California grantees), the partners transportation, lodging, meals, or some combination of these were typically coordinated by program staff and the costs subsidized.  Typically, the partners stayed at a hotel near the facility and were transported to the facility for 12 full days of programming.

In contrast to the retreat format, some sites (including the grantees in Ohio, New Jersey, and Tennessee) delivered joint programming to couples in correctional settings in a traditional course format.  With this format, women went into the facilities once or twice a week to participate in a 10- to 12-week course with their incarcerated partners.  This approach spread out the course material over a longer period of time, allowing participants to better digest the lessons and to take more time to practice the skills learned.  Yet, because many programs experienced challenges with partners attendance (due to the substantial transportation, scheduling, and other barriers faced each week), some partners did not receive the full course material despite the greater number of hours available.

Grantees perceived a number of advantages to the couples-based approach to relationship education, including the following.

  • Appeal to Prospective Participants.  The opportunity to see one another in a less constrained setting than the prison visitation room constituted a strong incentive for many couples.
  • Real-Life Relationship Skills Practice.  Participating couples were able to talk through real-life challenges with one another, discuss plans for release (if relevant), and begin practicing their new communication skills with one another.

Photograph of a couple's workshop held for incarcerated men and their partners in an Indiana state prison.  The photograph shows individual couples sitting side by side and communicating with one another, with a facilitator at the back of the room.

Source:  Indiana Department of Correction.

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