Fathers in a Pretrial Detention Facility-Lessons Learned

Article excerpt

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2007, 63 percent of federal inmates and 52 percent of state inmates were parents. Many were, and are, highly involved in their children's lives. Sixty-four percent of mothers and 47 percent of fathers reported they lived with their child in the month prior to incarceration. (1) More than 1.5 million children have a father in prison, (2) and the majority of these fathers (78 percent of those in state prison) reported having contact with their child since being incarcerated. (3) While these figures usually reference children ages 18 and younger, children over the age of 18 also have parents in prison, adding to the number of offspring who are affected by this parenting situation.

According to a study of 4,898 families, children of incarcerated mothers and fathers are at increased risk for housing and financial insecurity, and sons of incarcerated fathers are more likely to develop behavioral problems than daughters. (4) Helping fathers in prison to become better parents has the potential for not only improving the lives of their children, but also the lives of the mothers and other caregivers of the children, as well as the fathers' quality of life both during and post-detention.

While little research exists on programs for mothers in prison (5), even less exists on programs for incarcerated fathers. Loper and Tuerk's (2006) review of parenting programs identifies studies that included approximately six times more mothers than fathers. The programs they cite have various purposes. "Typical parenting curricula include education regarding effective parenting techniques and child development; other components may include enhanced visiting, parental rights training, nursery programs or support groups." (6)

The call for more fathering programs is not new. (7) Fathers in prison frequently report that they want to improve their parenting abilities, (8) but results of programs designed to assist them as parents are mixed. One successful program was a four-hour-per-week 12-session program based on Healthy Start. This program was originally conceived to ameliorate low birth weight and infant mortality. It was adapted for incarcerated fathers of infants in a Virginia prison and then adapted for fathers in Delaware. Sixty inmates participated in a group led by a teacher/trainer who taught 26 specific lesson plans related to responsible parenting. Outcomes were positive in relation to knowledge gained about parenting and attitudes toward child-rearing. (9) Another program offered groups twice a week during a six-week period. The 30 fathers who enrolled focused on parent education and behavior-management training. Fathers' attitudes improved but there was no significant change in their children's self-perception or in the fathers' self-esteem. (10) Fathering programs that foster greater communication between parents and children hold the promise of improving father-child relations. Research that explored father-child attachment post-incarceration cites maintaining regular contact while incarcerated as one of the factors. (11)

This article focuses on a short-term psycho-education group for fathers in a pretrial detention center. Different from the parenting programs described in the literature that have focused on teaching specific child-development content in a classroom format, this group provides a forum for fathers to learn sound parenting practices, voice their concerns about their parenting situations, and receive feedback from one another as well as from group leaders. The group is not presented as a classroom experience where it receives an education and tests are based on content. Rather, fathers are encouraged to talk about their own upbringing, their relationship with the mother or mothers of their child or children, and to seek advice specific to their parenting situation.

Setting and Context of the Group

The fathering program is one of several programs (General Education Degree and Alcoholics Anonymous are also offered) initiated in 2011 at the Chesapeake Detention Facility. …