Many states and localities offer programming for incarcerated parents with goals that include helping them stay in touch with their families and preparing them for reentry. Where 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. If not available, fatherhood practitioners can reach out to local correctional facilities to share lessons learned and encourage the development of these programs.
Some fatherhood programs have been successful in establishing ongoing relationships with local correctional facilities. They 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 the development of similar programs.
Offering informational sessions that provide overviews of your fatherhood services and benefits can help increase support. 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.
Tips & Best Practices
- Identify potential logistical challenges. Identifying likely challenges and discussing them with facility staff during the planning stages will help program delivery go more smoothly. Common challenges include access to meeting space, program completion for transferred inmates, and delivering presentation materials and barriers to family members. Working closely with correctional facility staff can help you anticipate potential problems and develop alternative approaches.
- Maintain regular and positive communication with correctional staff. Maintaining regular communication with correctional facility staff helps identify potential issues and solutions. This could be regularly scheduled meetings with agency managers or using multiple methods of communication (email, phone, meetings, memos) to build relationships and stay in touch with line staff. If you can show staff that your programming will make their jobs easier, it will be easier to schedule additional classes.
- Be prepared for anything and do your homework. Identify the facilities that are more likely to be stable. Stable facilities are more conducive to programming. 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.
Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota partners with the education division of the South Dakota Department of Corrections to work with fathers who are scheduled for release in six months or less. The organization provides relationship, parenting, and economic stability services. One innovative feature of the program gives fathers the opportunity to create video diaries of themselves doing something special for their children, such as reading a book, reading a letter, or playing a musical instrument. The DVDs are then mailed home to their children. Transitional support is also available for newly released fathers as they reenter the community.
What are some ways I can develop and maintain communication with correctional staff?
Schedule formal, regular meetings and communications with upper management but have more frequent and informal communications with facility line staff. Use multiple methods to communicate with staff, including e-mail, phone, in-person meetings, and informational handouts.
What are some tips for retention of fathers in programs?
Some strategies for retaining fathers in programs include shortening the curricula so more fathers can complete the programs, keeping the class size small, and allowing for more opportunities for communication and sharing stories.
How can we ensure our curricula is culturally relevant for the population being served?
Some programs found that the curricula they chose were not culturally relevant for their target population. For example, one grantee selected a curriculum specifically targeted to low-income, never-married African American parents aged 18 to 35. While this curriculum targeted a core group of the population being served, the staff found it did not work well with non-African American participants. To address issues of cultural relevance, one program had a cultural outreach specialist review its course materials to ensure that they were appropriate for the target population. Another suggestion would be to have staff attend cultural competency training.