Developing Services in Correctional Environments
Building Partnerships with Correctional Facilities | Identifying Potential Logistical Challenges | Maintaining Regular and Positive Communication with Correctional Staff | Lessons Learned for Meeting Institutional Constraints
Several states and localities now offer programming for incarcerated parents with goals that include helping them stay in touch with their families and preparing them for reentry. Where these programs are available, fatherhood practitioners may be able to partner with local correctional facilities to enhance the services they provide, either during or after incarceration. In locations where these programs are not yet available, fatherhood practitioners can reach out to correctional facilities in the area to share lessons learned and encourage development of such programs.
Examples of services provided by state or local correctional departments include:
- The New Hampshire Department of Corrections’ Family Connections Center provides parenting and relationship classes that include opportunities for structured interaction between incarcerated fathers and their children through Skype video chats and the use of audio recorders.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections provides a Virtual Visitation Program that offers opportunities for inmates and their families to visit via videoconferencing from Virtual Visitation Centers in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Erie.
- The Shelby County Division of Corrections in Tennessee had a 3 R Project that helped offenders “Rehabilitate, Renew, and Reconnect.” Fathers participated in parenting classes that included restorative parenting lessons, tips on using “teachable moments” to promote their children’s social skills, and opportunities for “child-friendly visits” with their children. The Division also offers programs for all offenders prior to reentry, including vocational and educational training, mental health and substance abuse education, and life skills training.
“Understanding the culture and context of corrections is crucial for successful programming. Key considerations include: increasing numbers of incarcerated men and shrinking budgets, facility closures, overburdened and underpaid facility staff with low morale and high turnover, and safety concerns that reduce staff interest in programming.”
Some fatherhood programs have been successful in establishing ongoing relationships with local correctional facilities. For instance, Lutheran Social Services in South Dakota and the RIDGE Project in Ohio have been helping fathers prepare for a return to their communities and families by providing parenting and vocational/educational services in correctional facilities throughout their states since 2006. These experienced practitioners advise that while it may take a while to gain the support of correctional agencies, demonstrating the impact of fatherhood programs on issues that are important to correctional facilities—such as increasing inmates’ motivation to change behavior or reducing disciplinary violations—can encourage development of similar programs.
Offering informational sessions that provide overviews of available fatherhood services and projected benefits can help increase support. For example, many correctional facilities are faced with high staff turnover, which leads to staffing shortages and heavy workloads for some staff. If staff shortages lead to a cutback in prison programming, an independent fatherhood program might offer classes designed to build the parenting, relationship and employment skills of inmates and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
If a community-based agency does not have a track record of working in correctional facilities, documenting other successful programs’ outcomes may be helpful. For example:
- In Indiana, dads participating in a parenting program and occupational training had a recidivism rate that was nearly half the state average. The recidivism rate was one-third lower for men who received visits from a child or spouse. Male ex-offenders who were married or living with a partner were 12 percent less likely to commit a new crime than unmarried ex-offenders.
- The RIDGE Project in Ohio reported increases in healthy communication, stronger and healthier family relationship ties, a 5 percent recidivism rate at 18 months, and increases in positive behaviors overall among program participants.
Once you have support from key staff at a correctional agency or individual facility, you can begin to develop procedures for sharing information and encouraging fathers to participate in scheduled classes.
“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.”
Identifying likely challenges and discussing them with facility staff during the planning stages will help program delivery go more smoothly. Fatherhood practitioners can anticipate the following challenges to providing services in a correctional environment:
- Access to meeting space may vary depending on day-to-day situations in the facility, and there may be interruptions in programming due to changes in meal times, calls for inmate counts, or lockdowns. Scheduling conflicts may also involve new work assignments or other programming.
- Because inmates may be transferred to another facility or granted early release, program completion can be hard for some participants, particularly in jails or other short-term facilities.
- Most correctional facilities do not allow visitors to bring in laptop computers or mobile phones, so program facilitators should plan to deliver class material without the use of a PowerPoint presentation. Some facilities allow visitors to bring in other workshop materials, such as books, markers, pens, and paper clips; some do not.
- While program staff with a criminal history can be effective in working in a prison environment, they may have difficulty gaining clearance to enter some facilities.
- Obstacles to family strengthening efforts during incarceration and reentry may include the distance between a prisoner’s place of imprisonment and his reentry community, inhospitable visiting rules, and barriers to partner and child involvement, such as transportation difficulties, busy schedules, and relationship strain.
Working closely with prison staff can help you anticipate some of these potential problems and develop alternative approaches. For instance, if an inmate is scheduled for early release, it may be possible to assign him additional individual work or help him connect with a program in his community, so he can continue to progress toward fatherhood program goals.
Maintaining regular communication with corrections managers and line staff will help you identify potential issues and solutions. This could involve regularly scheduled meetings with agency managers, or the use of multiple methods of communication (email, phone, meetings, memos) to build relationships and stay in touch with line staff. If you can demonstrate to staff that your programming will make their jobs easier, it will be easier to schedule additional classes.
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 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.