Strengthening the Couple and Family Relationships of Fathers Behind Bars: The Promise and Perils of Corrections-Based Programming. Introduction


Despite the fourfold increase in numbers of incarcerated individuals, access to prison-based programming has declined.[1] Because most individuals who are imprisoned eventually return home, understanding how to facilitate the transition back into the family is critical. To address this need, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Assistance (OFA) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) awarded grants in 2006 for programs designed to strengthen healthy relationships and families affected by incarceration.[2]

MFS-IP Program Background
The MFS-IP program models, service settings, and target populations vary, but all of the grantees deliver services to incarcerated fathers and their partners. Grantees offer services including:
  • marriage/relationship education,
  • relationship/family counseling,
  • parenting and co-parenting education,
  • case management,
  • mentoring and coaching services,
  • enhanced visitation options,
  • domestic violence services,
  • support groups,
  • education and employment services, and
  • financial literacy services.

A national evaluation is under way to assess the effectiveness of this programming in fostering healthy relationships, strengthening families, and easing community reentry. The evaluation includes site visits to gather information on program context, collaboration, participants, program elements, recruitment, retention, and barriers to and facilitators for success. Findings from these visits and interviews with program staff, partners, and participants are the main sources for this brief.

Because corrections settings and family-strengthening activities are relatively new to each other, the MFS-IP grantees have faced a number of challenges in their first 2 years. This brief documents the creativity and commitment that the grantees have demonstrated in rising to the challenges they have faced.

The chief goals of the correctional system are to ensure public safety and to create a safe working environment for facility staff. From a corrections perspective, the policies and procedures that support this mission are necessary, but they present unintended consequences for service delivery programs. Findings from the MFS-IP implementation study show four main challenges to service delivery of family-strengthening activities within the correctional environment, including: (1) institutional constraints; (2) logistical issues; (3) recruitment and motivation of the target population; and (4) retention of participants. The key findings from this study show how MFS-IP grantees made innovative programmatic adjustments that were respectful and responsive to the safety concerns and standard operating procedures of their host facilities while delivering needed services to their target populations.

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