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Parenting From Prison Reduces Consequences of Parental Incarceration
Date: May 03, 2017 08:58AM

Parenting From Prison Reduces Consequences of Parental Incarceration

Parenting education programs may serve a vital role in helping to reduce the numerous negative consequences associated with parental incarceration and also build important skills and behaviors among incarcerated parents. Indeed, incarcerated parents are likely to suffer from a multitude of risk factors that may stem back to their own childhood.

For example, research suggests that incarcerated parents have experienced many negative events throughout their lifetime. In particular, female compared to male inmates are more likely to have come from families plagued by substance abuse issues and violent backgrounds and are more likely to have experienced rape, incest and physical or sexual abuse (Feinman, 1994; Wellisch, Predergast, & Anglin, 1994). For these and a variety of other reasons, incarcerated parents may have lacked appropriate adult role models while growing up. Due to the lack of role models, these individuals may have never observed or experienced effective parenting practices and are likely to benefit from positive parenting education.

Parenting education programs also teach parents positive parenting skills and effective communication skills, which help to improve parenting practices in general (Cowan & Cowan, 2002). Additionally, parenting education programs targeted specifically for incarcerated parents may help in the process of reuniting with their families post-release. Evaluations of existing parenting education programs offered in prisons suggest that participation in these programs leads to positive changes in parental attitudes. For example, Thompson and Harm (2000) found significant improvements in participants’ self-esteem and child expectations, corporal punishment and family roles among incarcerated mothers. Furthermore, parenting education programs in prison have also been found to increase knowledge of child development and non-violent approaches to child behavior management (Showers, 1993).

Parenting education programs aim to teach incarcerated parents new behaviors and skills that may help to lessen the negative consequences of parental incarceration and may help to reduce the negative impact of this forced separation on children. Providing incarcerated parents the opportunity to both learn and practice new parenting skills in the classroom could prove valuable in easing the process of reuniting with one’s children post-release and in combating the negative consequences of parental incarceration.

Numerous studies report a link between engagement in educational programming while incarcerated and recidivism rates. Inmates who participate in education programs have significantly lower recidivism rates than inmates who do not participate in such programs (Fabelo, 2002; Gordon & Weldon, 2003; Chappel, 2004). Research evidence also suggests that recidivism is 6% lower for inmates who stay in touch with their families while incarcerated (Ditchfield, 1994). Therefore, inmates who maintain family bonds while incarcerated have lower recidivism rates than those who do not maintain such bonds. Thus, parenting education is beneficial not only in the sense that these programs teach positive parenting practices and help to strengthen family bonds, but also because there is a potential for these programs to reduce recidivism rates.

Evidence documenting the efficacy of parenting programs in incarcerated populations is limited (Palusci et al., 2008) and there is a need for continued research in this area. Adding to the sparse research evidence on the efficacy of these programs, it is important to note that the number of parenting education classes that encourage the strengthening of family bonds through visitation (Perez, 1996) or that provide participants the opportunity to practice and build effective communication skills are few in number. Moreover, the majority of parenting education programs in prison have targeted mothers, and very few studies to date have evaluated the effectiveness of parent education for incarcerated fathers. Parenting from Prison (PFP) is one such parenting education program offered in prisons in the state of Colorado that aims to strengthen family bonds and increase knowledge of and positive attitudes toward parenting practices among both male and female inmates.

The Parenting from Prison (PFP) program is an adaptation of the Partners in Parenting (PIP) curriculum, which is offered by Colorado Parenting Matters, LLC. The PIP curriculum was enhanced to include topics specifically relevant to incarcerated parents (e.g., maintaining contact with children during incarceration, reuniting with children post-release). The PFP curriculum aims to strengthen family relationships and increase positive behaviors. These tasks are accomplished by increasing parental knowledge about risks, resiliency and developmental assets. Parents learn about effective resiliency factors, and about the risks that should be of concern, with a strong emphasis placed on preventing substance abuse. Risk factors discussed in the curriculum include community (e.g., availability of drugs), family (e.g., family history of the problem behaviors), personality/behavioral (e.g., antisocial behavior) and peer-related (e.g., friends who engage in the problem behavior) factors that place children at risk for substance abuse and related problems in adolescence or adulthood (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). Resiliency (e.g., social competence) and protective factors (e.g., solid family bonds) are those that help safeguard youth from substance abuse (Hawkins et al., 1992).

The PFP curriculum consists of 20 sessions. Topics covered in the PFP curriculum include: self-esteem, risk and resilience factors, communication, discipline, problem solving and decision making. Furthermore, information about drugs and alcohol is provided within all of these topics (e.g., associations between self-esteem and drug and alcohol use, discipline about drugs and alcohol). A key component of the PFP curriculum is BrainWise® (Barry, 1999) and the 10 Wise Ways are integrated throughout all components of the PFP curriculum. A major goal of BrainWise® is to teach new skills (e.g., building support networks, recognizing warning signals, strategies to prevent emotional reactions from escalating) that enable individuals to respond to problems with good judgment rather than impulsive reactions. PFP also places a great deal of emphasis on issues related to reintegration. For example, participants learn about topics related to reunification with one’s family (e.g., making a reunification plan, making decisions about prior intimate relationships) and finding employment post-release (e.g., discussing conviction record with potential employers, practicing interview skills). Prior evaluations of PFP suggest this program is effective in increasing parenting efficacy, parenting skills and parental knowledge (Gonzalez, Romero, & Cerbana, 2007). It is a program model listed on the National Registry of Effective Programs and Practices.

For more information, contact Christine B. Cerbana, Managing Director, Colorado Parenting Matters, at or (970) 227-5602 or visit the website.

by: Christine B. Cerbana, Colorado Parenting Matters

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