Strategies for Building Healthy Relationship Skills Among Couples Affected by Incarceration. Hybrid Approaches for Programming during Incarceration


Some programs offered additional options in order to serve as many participants as possible and to accommodate incarcerated men who either did not have partners or whose partners could not participate in programming.  For example, some implemented both couples classes and men-only classes.  The Indiana grantee taught a men-only healthy relationship class to all men living in the unit targeted by the program and also offered a couples retreat to men whose partners could participate.  Other programs allowed men whose partners could not attend class to participate (without their partners) in the couples classes.  For instance, the Ohio grantees relationship education classes included some couples and some men whose partners could not attend.  Rather than combining singles and couples into one class, the New Hampshire grantee implemented a different approach.  This site offered the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) in a couples format in the correctional facility, men-only PREP classes in the correctional facility, and womens relationship education retreats in the community.  Similarly, the South Dakota and Tennessee grantees both added men-only healthy relationship classes in year 4 to accommodate men who did not have partners or whose partners could not attend couples classes in the facility.

Some programs worked particularly hard to ensure that female partners who could not attend classes received the course material.  The New Jersey grantee implemented a distance learning format in year 4 of their grant to accommodate women who were interested in participating but unable to attend sessions with their partners at the prisons.  With this format, partners were mailed a copy of the course materials and were expected to complete the homework exercises and mail them back.  Similarly, in year 4, the Michigan grantee began a telephone component for women who could not attend the community-based healthy relationship workshops offered for partners of incarcerated men.  Partners were sent the Within My Reach workbook and completed it over eight telephone conversations with two staff members.  Also trying to accommodate women who could not participate in the couples workshops, the California grantee incorporated the content of the workshops into womens sessions with the program case manager.

Photograph of a men-only class held in an Indiana state prison.  The photograph shows a small number of incarcerated men reading workbooks.

Source:  Indiana Department of Correction.

Relationship Class Observations
During year 4 site visits, RTI teams observed 10 relationship education classes.  Classes were taught in both prison and community settings, with some programs including partners, others exclusively for men, and one for women only.  Half of the classes were structured as all-day workshops or weekend retreats.  The topics discussed during the observed relationship classes included:
  • commitment,
  • communication danger signs,
  • decision making,
  • stress styles,
  • speaker-listener technique,
  • dimensions of love,
  • personalities, and
  • problem solving.

All of the classes included a lecture component, a large majority included discussion among participants, and some included role-playing, audiovisual aids, or both.  Observer ratings of participation and engagement among participants found high levels of verbal engagement.  In three classes, 100 percent of participants engaged verbally in the course (with verbal engagement defined as making a statement or asking a question at some point in the class).  In four classes, 7080 percent of participants engaged verbally.  In three classes, 50 percent or fewer were verbally engaged.

Approaches for Delivering Programming to Reentering or Formerly Incarcerated Men

Although most programs primarily focused on delivering relationship education during mens incarceration, a small number of grantees attempted to make relationship education classes available to reentering or formerly incarcerated men in the community.  Three sites (the Minnesota, Michigan, and South Dakota grantees) offered relationship education classes to reentering men and their partners.  This service was provided to accommodate men who were not able to receive the relationship education class during their incarceration, partners who could not attend prison-based classes or partners who preferred to wait until the mans release to participate in couples workshops in the community.

A few sites developed a format for delivering relationship education services to formerly incarcerated men and their partners.  In these sites, a distinct track of participants  those who were already released from incarceration  was enrolled in the program.  The three programs that provided relationship education classes to this population (grantees in California, Michigan, and Texas) delivered the classes in a community setting and offered them jointly to couples.

Although the grantees that attempted community-based classes for reentering or formerly incarcerated men worked hard to make them available, participation in these services was generally very low.  Grantees with an infrastructure for community-based service delivery and established partnerships with community-based organizations were more successful with this component.  For grantees that attempted to enroll a track of formerly incarcerated men, access to an existing cohort of participants in some other program or service was also helpful in enrolling a larger number of couples.

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