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Use These Studies to Inform Your Work with Incarcerated Dads

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Jul 12, 2022

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Do you work or want to work with incarcerated dads?

If so, two recently-released studies can inform that work. Combined these studies provide an in-depth look at parenting programs in prisons.

Programs for Incarcerated Parents: Preliminary Findings from a Pilot Survey by the Rand Corporation reports on the first step toward in what will eventually become the most ambitious study of parenting (and fatherhood) programs in our nation’s corrections systems. In March and April 2021, Rand researchers surveyed administrators in 43 correctional facilities in five states to pilot a survey that they hope to use with administrators of facilities in all states. This larger study will also include case studies.*

Even though this was a pilot survey with a small sample of facilities, it is, according to the researchers, “the first study to directly inquire about efforts to respond to the distinct and diverse needs of incarcerated parents representing different racial, cultural, and gender identities.” It provides results in answers to the following four questions:

  1. What prison-based programs exist for incarcerated parents?
  2. What are the key program components, how are programs implemented, and what are the programs’ resources?
  3. To what extent do available programs support gender and cultural responsiveness?
  4. What are prison officials’ assessments of the efficacy of the programs, and what are their perceptions of the strengths and challenges of implementation?

Here is a sample of the richness of the findings (taken verbatim from the report):

  • Most facilities offer at least one program designed to support incarcerated parents and their children.
  • Most programs appear to use nationally known—and, in some cases, researched-based—parenting interventions.
  • Programs support parent well-being and nurture positive family relationships through parenting education; reading, writing, and literacy; and visitation supports.
  • Few parenting programs offer reentry supports, direct supports for children, mental health supports, education and training, or legal supports; however, these services are commonly offered to residents at some correctional facilities.
  • Administrators representing more than half of the programs reported that their programs supported gender and cultural responsiveness; however, strategies used for cultural responsivity were fairly limited.
  • The most commonly reported strength was the motivation of the participating parents. Other commonly reported strengths were effective resources, staff skills, and staff buy-in.
  • Notably, the most common challenge was identical to the most common strength: lack of parent motivation. Other commonly cited challenges were staff burnout and limited funds.

The Effects of Parenting Programs for Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers published in December 2021 by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports on the results of a comprehensive review of the literature on parenting programs for incarcerated and reentering fathers. (The review included two meta-analyses of the effectiveness of these programs.) This research brief provides:

  • A description of parenting programs for incarcerated and reentering fathers, including the populations they serve and the types of services they offer.
  • Highlights of what is known about the effectiveness of these programs from studies of parenting programs for incarcerated and reentering fathers.
  • A discussion of how the responsible fatherhood field can use this evidence to strengthen parenting services for fathers with criminal justice involvement.

The rich findings from this study include (taken verbatim from the brief):

  • Programs were most successful at improving fathers’ contact with their child and parenting skills, attitudes, and knowledge.
  • We know less about impacts on fathers’ relationship quality with their child and impacts on child well-being, outcomes that are central to the goals of parenting programs.
  • Few studies examined impacts on fathers’ economic stability or financial support of their child.
  • Although several studies examined outcomes related to fathers’ personal well-being and relationship quality with a coparent, most found no impacts in these domains.
  • There is limited evidence on programs offered in a community setting, programs that include children or coparents in services, or programs that offer individual services.

I encourage you to download and read these studies. They could help you improve your work with incarcerated dads, such as identifying additional components to offer in an existing or new program for this important population. After all, 92 percent of parents in prison are dads!

How familiar are you with the research on parenting and fatherhood programs for incarcerated dads?

Did you know that InsideOut Dad® from National Fatherhood Initiative® is the most widely-used evidence-based program for incarcerated dads? Click here to learn more about this life-changing program.


*I interviewed Dionne Barnes-Proby, the lead researcher on this study, and learned that Rand hopes to secure funding later this year to conduct the larger study.

Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: incarcerated fathers, child well-being, children of incarcerated fathers, evidence-based InsideOut Dad, Featured, General Fatherhood Research & Studies, NFI News & Updates, InsideOut Dad

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