Prison Parenting Program Boosts Visitation

Dianne-Frazee Walker

The most significant benefit of the Inside Out Parenting Program offered in Oregon prisons is increased visitation which results in a lower recidivism rate. Research has proven that inmates who receive abundant visitation are less likely to reoffend when they return to the community.   Photo courtesy tracyschiffmann.com

Parenting Inside Out (PIO) is a parenting program offered in Oregon prisons for over ten years. The program was initiated by the Oregon Social Learning Center and the Oregon Department of Corrections. The reason why PIO works is the program encourages individuals to visit incarcerated family members often. The positive outcome is family relationships are nourished, which provides motivation for incarcerated parents to reconnect with their children.

The Oregon Social Learning Center conducted a randomized controlled study to test the outcomes of (PIO) participants. Empirical results of the study provided the impact PIO has on incarcerated parents. The study presents evidence that both male and female inmate parents who took PIO classes improved their parenting skills and relationships with their children.

359 incarcerated parents participated in the experiment. Both mothers and fathers were randomly divided into two groups. Half of the parents participated in parenting classes and the other half did not.

The group that took the parenting classes testified to experiencing dramatic improvements interacting with their children. Fathers involved with PIO confirmed they are more likely to continue nurturing relationships with their children when they are released. The PIO group that had the most tension between themselves and the custodial parents of their children during their incarceration improved their relationships. The PIO group reported more family visits than the group that did not take parenting classes.

The Minnesota Department of corrections also released test results that proved the positive impact inmate visits with family have on lowering recidivism rates. The study performed in 2011 applied statistics of 16,420 inmates released from 2003 to 2007.  

Research performed by the Urban Institute for The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative provides evidence -- through surveying incarcerated parents -- that gaining effective parenting skills is important to them.  Researchers asked participants of the survey what tool was most needed to successfully cope with reentering society; 61% said parenting skills. Most inmates want to care for their children properly when they return to their families, but admit they need help.

(PIO) prepares incarcerated parents with skills they need to succeed in parenting while they are inside the prison and incorporate them into the outside world. Parenting skills are practiced with other participants in class and used during visitation with their children. Most parents are uncomfortable visiting with their children when they come to visit. Parents don’t know what to say to their children because they are ashamed of their situation. The (PIO) program addresses communication problems with parents using the role play model.  In this model, the inmate role plays with classmates about what to say to their children when they visit. A parenting coach is present to provide feedback. Parents return to the classroom after visitation with results of the visit with their children. Their peers have the opportunity to inquire what communication methods were successful and which ones need improvement.

An inmate Dad shares his appreciation for the parenting program, “Parenting Inside Out started a cycle of success for me. Having confidence makes a real difference. I’m ready to be a parent for my kids and now I know how.”