An Evaluation: Friends Outside's Positive Parenting for Incarcerated Parents

By Simmons, Charlene Wear; Noble, Amanda et al. | Corrections Today, December 2012 | Go to article overview

An Evaluation: Friends Outside's Positive Parenting for Incarcerated Parents


Simmons, Charlene Wear, Noble, Amanda, Nieto, Marcus, Corrections Today


Parenting education can increase the odds of an inmate's successful transition to society and the well-being of his or her children. Inmates who are released into a stable family situation benefit immediately from a support structure and housing. Family is a key ally in motivating positive change for men and women who are incarcerated. A 2009 study by the Urban Institute of 650 returning male prisoners in three states found that "... Former prisoners who were married or living as married had half the odds of self-reporting a new crime and/or drug use as did those in casual, unmarried relationships." The study concluded that "... In-prison programs that strengthen the quality of married relationships may improve recidivism and substance abuse outcomes after release." (1)

Many incarcerated parents come from unstable families and thus may lack the skills necessary for successful family life; for example, nearly half of state prisoners have a father, mother or sibling who has been incarcerated. (2) These parents can benefit greatly from learning new skills and approaches to parenting to improve their own lives and the lives of their children. Research has found that, "High-quality parenting education programs, implemented wisely, can sharply increase children's odds of healthy social, behavioral and cognitive development." (3) The connection between poor parenting and crime is a strong one. According to a review by criminologist Alex Piquero of 55 rigorously-designed studies, there is a "... very strong relationship between participation in a high-quality parenting program and lower crime rates. Children of parents who participated were as much as 22 percent less likely to later commit a crime." (4)

History of Positive Parenting for Incarcerated Parents

Friends Outside was established in 1955 by Rosemary Goodenough--a Quaker and advocate for social justice, incarcerated people, and their children and families--and since then has been working inside institutions with incarcerated individuals, their families and children. The organization follows a strengths-based approach to help incarcerated individuals achieve a sense of personal responsibility and productiveness: "We want individuals to rediscover their abilities through appropriate interventions and become self-directed toward positive outcomes." (5)

Friends Outside's Positive Parenting Program began in 1986, in response to concerns of women in the Santa Clara County Jail about termination of their parental rights in the absence of a court-approved parenting class. (6) Gretchen Newby, who developed and lead the class, expected about 20 women but more than 80 attended the first session. The curriculum was initially based on a course offered by the Red Cross, but was modified over time to meet the unique needs of incarcerated mothers and enriched by insights drawn from a number of parenting curricula. (7)

In 1992, Friends Outside began working inside state prisons with pregnant and parenting mothers, offering parenting classes and, for the first time, a special visiting day for their children. Wardens in the men's prisons requested that the class also be offered to male incarcerated parents. In 1997, the California Department of Corrections (currently the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)) Case Management Contract with Friends Outside included parenting education in all California Department of Corrections institutions and required that Friends Outside gather data about program effectiveness. Participants respond to pre and post-program self-evaluations. More than 5,000 incarcerated men and women have successfully completed Friends Outside's Positive Parenting Program and have been provided the opportunity to become better parents, positively impacting the lives of thousands of children.

The Positive Parenting Curriculum

The Positive Parenting 30-hour curriculum, presented in two-hour sessions during 15 weeks, meets the requirements of California's Welfare and Institutions Code section 16507. …

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