Strengthening the Couple and Family Relationships of Fathers Behind Bars: The Promise and Perils of Corrections-Based Programming. Misunderstandings about the goals and processes of the MFS-IP programming hindered initial acceptance in some cases

08/30/2009

Achieving institutional support was slow. It took time to effectively convey the intent and potential benefits of the relationship- and family-strengthening programs to administrative and facility staff.

Some correctional facility staff feared that family-strengthening services would reopen old wounds and distress participants. It was helpful to make special efforts to inform staff at the facilities about the programming and provide assurance that the approach did not include support group therapy sessions.

In the more successful partnerships, correctional staff understood that programming was a useful and constructive way for men to spend time and having men productively engaged in programming contributed to a safer, more stable facility. Some staff recognized the potential that family and fatherhood had to reduce recidivism, and having program advocates within corrections was powerful.

Some community-based grantees were starting a new relationship with correctional staff, and the learning curve was steep. However, even the corrections-sponsored programs had challenges working within the corrections environment as well, especially as state budgets have become more constrained.

Lessons Learned for Meeting Institutional Constraints
Be prepared for anything and do your homework:
  • Stable facilities are more conducive to programming. Facility changes or closures can affect planning. Identify the facilities that are more likely to be stable.
  • Demonstrate the value of the programming in a way that matters to corrections. Show any impact the program has had on safety and the facility operations (e.g., do program participants have fewer disciplinary violations?).
  • Develop support and buy-in ahead of time. Implement programming in facilities that support the program.
  • Diversify service delivery populations (e.g., parole, state probation, federal probation) to ensure that programming can continue if recruitment of a particular population is threatened.
  • Staff programs creatively and flexibly.

More communication is better:

  • Schedule formal, regular meetings and communications with upper management.
  • Have more frequent and informal communications with facility line staff.
  • Use multiple methods to communicate with staff, including e-mail, telephone contact, weekly meetings, and administrative memoranda that program staff can keep on hand.
  • Directly and frequently invite administrators to raise operational concerns to program leadership and then systematically address each issue.

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