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Parenting Curriculum for Incarcerated Women

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

Incarcerated mothers in 2007 left 150,000 kids at home while they served their sentences, according to a joint report from the Volunteers of America and Wilder Research. Six percent of female inmates enter jail or prison pregnant, according to 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics, as reported on the website for the American College of Nurse-Midwives. The report revealed that incarcerated mothers often live in poverty, suffer from mental illness and substance abuse and have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse. If their children are to have a chance, these moms need parenting help.

Specialized and General Curriculum

Six parenting programs authored and sponsored by various agencies are used in jails and prisons with female inmates. Unfortunately, the programs do not extend to every jail and prison in the country. Some programs such as FamilyWorks, Parenting Piece by Piece and Positive Parenting Program were specifically developed to deal with incarcerated mothers. Other programs, such as Strengthening Families, Nurturing Families, and the ParentProject and Homes of Honor programs used in Fort Worth, Texas, incorporate information and program components for inmates, but also work with general parenting information.


Each of the programs seeks to improve the family bond, reduce recidivism, educate parents on parenting skills and make a difference in the children of inmates affected by the trauma of separation and crime. FamilyWorks, Strengthening Families and the combination program in Fort Worth incorporate information and support for inmates with substance abuse issues to help parents avoid reoffending and returning to jail. The Parenting Piece by Piece, Nurturing Parenting and Positive Parenting programs emphasize avoiding aggression, family violence, and abuse and neglect. FamilyWorks, Strengthening Families, Nurturing Parenting and Positive Parenting provide parenting support once the inmate is released. Positive Parenting allows parents and children to interact in a supervised environment prior to release.


Each of the six programs helps mothers understand normal child development, communication skills between parents and children and parental responsibilities to children. Stress and anger management techniques are also a common inclusion in the programs. Each program helps the moms maintain contact with their children and with the individual who cares for the children during incarceration. Parents can write letters home, send cards, visit with caregivers and children during normal inmate visitation and some place collect calls home to talk to the kids and family. The programs network with various organizations to help families meet their basic needs for food, shelter and clothing, and some programs assist with counseling for the kids.


Each program has found that those inmates who participate in the programs report more confidence as a parent, a better understanding of child development and behavior and better tools for discipline and training. The programs also report that participants have lower recidivism rates because they are motivated to be better parents, which means not returning to jail or prison. The programs hope that the children of these inmates will be incarcerated as a result of the improved parenting skills of their mothers.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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