Strategies for Building Healthy Relationship Skills Among Couples Affected by Incarceration. Summary


The MFS-IP grantees attempts to bring relationship education  an area of programming very rarely seen in prisons and jails  into correctional settings were a pioneering effort.  All grantees overcame substantial logistical challenges and implemented healthy relationships skills training in correctional settings.  A particularly notable accomplishment is most grantees ability to bring partners into correctional facilities to participate in relationship education programming.  Recognizing the need for flexibility in service delivery format, the MFS-IP grantees used several strategies to teach healthy relationship skills to currently incarcerated, reentering, and formerly incarcerated men and their partners.  The grantees used creativity to modify their relationship education component in response to the needs of their target population and host correctional facilities.  Adaptations made to the content, language, examples, style, and delivery made the courses as engaging as possible for participants.

The implementation experiences of the MFS-IP grantees can inform future efforts to build healthy relationship skills among families affected by incarceration.  While incarcerated, many individuals are interested in improving themselves and their relationships with their partners, children, and other family members.  Although not all incarcerated persons are married or in intimate relationships, healthy relationship skills broadly apply to many types of interpersonal relationships.  As observed by several grantees, relationships such as parent-child, correctional officer-inmate, inmate-inmate, and employer-employee could be improved by healthy relationship skills training.

The impact study component of the MFS-IP evaluation, concluding in 2015, will determine the effectiveness of relationship education and other MFS-IP program components in strengthening relationship quality and stability and facilitating successful community reentry.  Research suggests that healthy relationships contribute to reentry success, yet little is known about how to improve relationship quality for couples affected by incarceration.  Relationship education that builds healthy relationship skills could play an important role in relationship quality throughout incarceration and during the critical reentry period.  Even for lengthy periods of incarceration, communication and conflict resolution skills could result in more supportive relationships, improved co-parenting, and increased familial contact  all of which could be beneficial upon the individuals eventual release.

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