The Rhode Island Department of Corrections has been awarded a $287,574 Second Chance Act grant and a $391K Family Reunification grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Together, these Federal monies will allow for a greater emphasis on an important area of prisoner reentry work, the RIDOC’s Family-Focused Initiative.
Not only does a parent’s incarceration at least temporarily sever the relationship between parent and child, it also results in young people struggling with economic, social and emotional burdens. The RIDOC has long recognized that family support is critical to successful reentry and in recent years has focused on engaging the family as soon as possible in an offender’s incarceration, offering support and referrals that will keep family ties strong during a father’s imprisonment.
It is not at all uncommon for several generations of one family to be locked up at the same time. In some cases, there are members of the same family in numerous facilities. The overall desired outcome of the Family-Focused Initiative is to create a system that promotes responsible fatherhood and encourages fathers to be engaged in the lives of their children -- the results of which will contribute to sustaining healthy relationships, lead to crime-free lives, end family inter-generational incarcerations and create safer communities. The three phases of the initiative are listed below:
Phase I: Institutional Inmate Intervention: Upon sentencing, the RIDOC will identify eligible inmates and their families through the use of the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) assessment tool. “Since the introduction of the LSIR, we are able to identify those offenders who are high risk, so we can focus our efforts on them, not the more compliant low risk individuals who have tended to be the ones to seek out services and who have a lower risk to recidivate,” notes Professional Services Coordinator Ken Findlay. “This high risk group is more difficult to engage, but the stakes are higher.” Priority will also be given to those fathers who owe child support payments with the intent of keeping them engaged in their children’s lives while working on the barriers such as education and employment which may have caused the increased arrearages. Upon agreement to participate in the RIDOC’s Family-Focused Initiative, inmate fathers will be placed on a specialized caseload, enrolled in the Family-Focused Initiative track of existing and newly created innovative and intensive family-centered programming, and given enrollment priority for programs that address their individual risk factors as identified by the LSI-R results.
Phase II: Family-Focused Intervention: Second Chance grant funds will also pay for a family worker who will be hired to coordinate the Family-Focused Initiative work with incarcerated fathers and their families. The family caseworker will be assigned to the families, conduct strength-based assessments and provide support and referrals to the families and children. This is an exciting new approach that will engage inmates and families with the same professional when their loved one is incarcerated and after his release.
Phase III: Policy/System Improvements: A State Reaction Survey will be conducted with the goal of identifying how the State’s support systems did or did not react to the parental incarceration. The results will be presented to two bodies created by Executive Order: the Statewide Prisoner Reentry Council and the Rhode Island Fatherhood Coalition. Both initiatives were tasked with creating the mechanisms for systems change by establishing cross-system collaborations.
With Department of Justice funding, the Department purchased the copyright to the Level of Response to Traumatic Events (LORTE) model. The model is used to design training curriculum for anyone who may come in contact with children affected by parental incarceration. So far, the model has guided the Department to create a curriculum specifically designed for elementary and middle school children, teachers, caregivers and incarcerated fathers. The project ensures that all disciplines send the same message to the children regardless of where they live, play, attend school, etc. Among its goals is to increase the resiliency of the children of prisoners and ex-prisoners and to explain why adverse behavior is so often exhibited.
Parenting Coordinator TeLisa Richardson piloted a mini-version of the LORTE training in three Department of Corrections buildings last year, and this grant will now enable her to bring the training to all of the sentenced facilities, with the goal of graduating 50 inmate fathers per year from the program during the life of the Second Chance Act grant. Before and after comments from inmate participants indicate that the curriculum has had a profound impact on them.
Another component of the initiative is called Fathered to Fathering Maps (FFM) and is overseen by Tanya Glantz from The Rhode Island Child Welfare Institute. The FFM engages inmate fathers in creating a map detailing their history with their own father (if one was present in their lives) indicating community supports and mentors where they existed. They also do the same type of map for themselves in relation to their own children. “It’s a visual way to get inmates to understand their lives and interactions with their children,” notes Glantz. The goal is to have the 50 inmates complete the FFM while enrolled in the LORTE program.
Supported by ARRA funds, a new parenting program called Parenting Inside Out is offered in four men’s facilities (Max, Medium Moran, Medium Price and Minimum, as well as both women’s facilities) by Family Service of Rhode Island. Three Family Service of Rhode Island employees - Jennifer Etue, Jeanne Sherman, and Shebna Wagnac - teach the evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral parent management skills training program created for incarcerated parents.
At the core of Parenting Inside Out is the Parent Management Training (PMT) curriculum, which appears on the “best practice” lists of the American Psychological Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Victims of Crime, the U.S. Department of Justice. This outcomes-based program is focused on helping parents promote healthy child adjustment, preventing child problem behavior, and interrupting the cycle of inter-generational criminality. In PIO, parents develop both parenting and citizenship behaviors they can use for the rest of their lives, guiding their children toward positive, constructive adult lives. There are three versions of PIO, the jail, prison, and community versions, each of which is taught at the RIDOC depending on the facility where it’s offered.
One program the DOC has partnered with other agencies to promote is the Big Mentor League. This program of the Big Sisters of Rhode Island, the Urban League of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership pairs volunteer mentors with a child whose father is incarcerated. The idea is to develop a relationship with a nurturing, caring adult and a stable environment that can promote healthy values and strong families.
“Under Assistant Director of Rehabilitative Services Roberta Richman’s leadership,” notes Ken Findlay “we are far ahead of many other states in the area of fatherhood and parenting initiatives.” Findlay explains, “We are trying to get fathers engaged in their children’s lives so they can better support the children.” In addition to increasing our male-specific programming, the Department now works closely with Child Support Services. CSS has been fairly successful working with non-custodial fathers to get their child support payments stopped while they are incarcerated. Otherwise they get so far behind that they leave buried in debt, feeling overwhelmed and unable to ever catch up.
In addition to parenting education, substance abuse treatment, Fatherhood Mapping, and family reunification, the Family Focused Initiative includes Books Beyond Bars. This volunteer-run program pairs a volunteer with an inmate parent who records the inmate reading a story to their child or children up to the age of 18. The books and recordings are then mailed home to the child or children so they can feel a connection to their incarcerated parent. Further information on the Books Beyond Bars program can be found on the Department’s website at www.doc.ri.gov.