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The effectiveness of parent education for incarcerated parents: an evaluation of parenting from prison.

According to the Bureau of Justice (Sabol & Couture, 2008) by midyear 2007 over 1.5 individuals were incarcerated in state and federal prisons, a 1.6% increase over the previous year. In conjunction with the ever increasing prison rate, the total number of parents incarcerated in state and federal prisons is also increasing. For example, in 1999, 721,500 parents of minor children were incarcerated in state and federal prisons (Mumola, 2000). The same report indicated that while 936,500 minor children had an incarcerated parent in 1991, by 1999 this number had risen to 1,498,800. In 2007, over 22,000 individuals were incarcerated in state and federal prisons in Colorado (Sabol & Couture, 2008) and the majority of these individuals were parents of minor children. Based on these figures, it is apparent that an increasing number of children are impacted by incarceration. Yet the impact of incarceration on families has received relatively minimal research attention and few programs exist to help mitigate the potential ill effects on children. Therefore, an urgent need exists for the development, implementation and evaluation of programs designed to ease the deleterious effects of parental incarceration on the family unit.

For children, there are many negative consequences that may result from having an incarcerated parent. For example, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to suffer from behavioral and emotional problems and are at greater risk for poor academic performance, drug and alcohol use and self-esteem issues (Bilchik, Seymour, & Kreisher, 2001). Furthermore, children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to enter the criminal justice system during their lifetime (Bilchik et al., 2001; Jarvis, Graham, Hamilton, & Tyler, 2004).

Parent education programs may serve a vital role in helping to reduce the numerous negative consequences associated with parental incarceration and also build important skills and behaviors among incarcerated parents. Indeed, incarcerated parents are likely to suffer from a multitude of risk factors that may stem back to their own childhood. For example, research suggests that incarcerated parents have experienced many negative events throughout their lifetime. In particular, female compared to male inmates are more likely to have come from families plagued by substance abuse issues, violent backgrounds and are more likely to have experienced rape, incest and physical or sexual abuse (Feinman, 1994; Wellisch, Predergast, & Anglin, 1994). For these and a variety of other reasons, incarcerated parents may have lacked appropriate adult role models while growing up. Due to the lack of adult role models, these individuals may have never observed or experienced effective parenting practices and are likely to benefit from positive parenting education.

Parent Education Programs in Prison

Numerous benefits associated with participation in prison parent education programs have been documented, including benefits to inmates, to their children and reductions in recidivism.

Benefits for inmates. Involvement in parent education programs has been associated with positive outcomes for inmates. For example, positive behavioral changes have been reported among inmates who engage in some form of education program while incarcerated (Perez, 1996). Parent education programs also teach parents positive parenting skills and effective communication skills, which help to improve parenting practices in general (Cowan & Cowan, 2002). Additionally, parent education programs targeted specifically for incarcerated parents may help in the process of reuniting with their families post-release. Evaluations of existing parent education programs offered in prisons suggest that participation in these programs lead to positive changes in parental attitudes. For example, Thompson and Harm (2000) found significant improvements in participants' self-esteem and child expectations, corporal punishment and family roles among incarcerated mothers. Furthermore, parent education programs in prison have also been found to increase knowledge of child development and non-violent approaches to child behavior management (Showers, 1993).

Benefits for children. Parent education programs aim to teach incarcerated parents new behaviors and skills that may help to lessen the negative consequences of parental incarceration and may help to reduce the negative impact of this forced separation on children. Providing incarcerated parents the opportunity to both learn and practice new parenting skills in the classroom could prove valuable in easing the process of reuniting with one's children post-release and in combating the negative consequences of parental incarceration. However, no research to date has evaluated the long-term impact of participation in parent education programs while incarcerated or whether the new skills and behaviors learned are enacted in future interactions with children.

Benefits for recidivism. Numerous studies report a link between engagement in educational programming while incarcerated and recidivism rates. Inmates who participate in education programs have significantly lower recidivism rates than inmates who do not participate in such programs (Fabelo, 2002; Gordon & Weldon, 2003; Chappel, 2004). Research evidence also suggests that recidivism is 6% lower for inmates who stay in touch with their families while incarcerated (Ditchfield, 1994). Therefore, inmates who maintain family bonds while incarcerated have lower recidivism rates than those who do not maintain such bonds. Thus, parent education is beneficial not only in the sense that these programs teach positive parenting practices and help to strengthen family bonds, but also because there is a potential for these programs to reduce recidivism rates.

Given the benefits associated with engagement in education programs while incarcerated, the negative consequences that can occur for children of incarcerated parents and the possibility that many incarcerated parents lack appropriate parenting skills, providing parent education to incarcerated parents holds great potential. Moreover, most incarcerated parents plan to reunite with their children upon release from prison (Mumola, 2000) and therefore providing parent education during this period of forced separation is critical. As a response to these concerns, several states and individual prison facilities have developed innovative programs to facilitate contact between prisoners and their children, to enhance parents' parenting skills and to help incarcerated parents overcome barriers to maintaining family relationships.

Evidence documenting the efficacy of parenting programs in incarcerated populations is limited (Palusci et al., 2008) and there is a need for continued research in this area. Adding to the sparse research evidence on the efficacy of these programs, it is important to note that the number of parent education classes that encourage the strengthening of family bonds through visitation (Perez, 1996) or that provide participants the opportunity to practice and build effective communication skills are few in number. Moreover, the majority of parent education programs in prison have targeted mothers, and very few studies to date have evaluated the effectiveness of parent education for incarcerated fathers. Parenting from Prison (PFP) is one such parent education program offered in prisons in the state of Colorado that aims to strengthen family bonds and increase knowledge of and positive attitudes toward parenting practices among both male and female inmates.

Parenting from Prison Curriculum

The Parenting from Prison (PFP) program is an adaptation of the Partners in Parenting (PIP) curriculum, which is offered by the Colorado Family Education, Resources and Training (CFERT) project. The PIP curriculum was enhanced to include topics specifically relevant to incarcerated parents (e.g., maintaining contact with children during incarceration, reuniting with children post-release). The PFP curriculum aims to strengthen family relationships and increase positive behaviors. These tasks are accomplished by increasing parental knowledge about risks, resiliency and developmental assets. Parents learn about effective resiliency factors, and about the risks that should be of concern, with a strong emphasis placed on preventing substance abuse. Risk factors discussed in the curriculum include community (e.g., availability of drugs), family (e.g., family history of the problem behaviors), personality/behavioral (e.g., antisocial behavior) and peer-related (e.g., friends who engage in the problem behavior) factors that place children at risk for substance abuse and related problems in adolescence or adulthood (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). Resiliency (e.g., social competence) and protective factors (e.g., solid family bonds) are those that help safeguard youth from substance abuse (Hawkins et al., 1992).

The PFP curriculum consists of 20 sessions and topics covered in the PFP curriculum include; self-esteem, risk and resilience factors, communication, discipline, problem solving and decision making. Furthermore, information about drugs and alcohol is provided within all of these topics (e.g., associations between self-esteem and drug and alcohol use, discipline about drugs and alcohol). A key component of the PFP curriculum is BrainWise (Barry, 1999) and the 10 Wise Ways are integrated throughout all components of the PFP curriculum. A major goal of BrainWise is to teach new skills (e.g., building support networks, recognizing warning signals, strategies to prevent emotional reactions from escalating) that enable individuals to respond to problems with good judgment rather than impulsive reactions. PFP also places a great deal of emphasis on issues related to reintegration. For example, participants learn about topics related to reunification with one's family (e.g., making a reunification plan, making decisions about prior intimate relationships) and finding employment post-release (e.g., discussing conviction record with potential employers, practicing interview skills). Prior evaluations of PFP suggest this program is effective in increasing parenting efficacy, parenting skills and parental knowledge (Gonzalez, Romero, & Cerbana, 2007).

Current Study

The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the effectiveness of PFP in increasing self-esteem, self-mastery, parental knowledge, parental confidence and positive attitudes toward parenting. Since the prior evaluation of PFP (Gonzalez et al., 2007), revisions were made to the PFP curriculum, with greater emphasis placed on issues related to reuniting with one's family after release and on child discipline. Furthermore, the instruments used to assess the effectiveness of PFP were modified to better measure constructs of interests. Finally, the prior evaluation of PFP only evaluated the effectiveness of the curriculum among a sample of female offenders and therefore the effectiveness of this program for male offenders has not been tested. Therefore, this study assessed the effectiveness of the revised PFP curriculum and evaluated the effectiveness of the curriculum in a sample of both male and female offenders.

A number of hypotheses were formulated at the beginning of the evaluation process. First, it was hypothesized that participants would communicate with their children more at posttest than at pretest. Second, it was hypothesized that significant increases in participants' self-esteem, self-mastery, parental satisfaction, positive attitudes toward parenting and parental confidence would be observed. Finally, it was hypothesized that participants' knowledge of the PFP curriculum would significantly increase from pretest to posttest.



Participants included 102 males and 82 females who took part in the PFP program while incarcerated in several correctional facilities across the state of Colorado. Participants' mean age was 31.5 years (SD = 8.7) and the majority were single/never married (38.7%), married (22.5%) or divorced (20.2%). The ethnic composition of the sample included 40.1% Hispanic/Latino, 36.7% Anglo/Caucasian, 18.6% African American/Black, 4.1% Native American, 0.5% Asian/Pacific Islander and 2.9% other. Most participants reported less than or equivalent to a high school diploma/GED education (65.5%). Only participants who completed both the pretest and posttest measures and who had children were included in analyses. These exclusion criteria reduced the final sample to 81 males and 69 females.


PFP class sizes ranged from 9-22 participants, and within each class, all participants were of the same sex. Analyses presented in this paper include data collected from ten different PFP sessions, conducted at six different correctional facilities in Colorado. While all facilities implemented the 20 session PFP curriculum, due to differences between correctional facilities, the actual time taken to complete the curriculum varied from facility to facility. For example, some correctional facilities only house prisoners with shorter sentences and therefore classes were held more frequently in such facilities, increasing the probability that prisoners would complete the PFP curriculum before their release from prison. Course delivery methods included discussions, individual work, group exercises and role playing.

Prior to the start of the PFP program, participants completed a paper and pencil pretest survey. After completion of the pretest survey, participants took part in the 20 session PFP program. Immediately following completion of the PFP curriculum, participants completed a paper and pencil posttest survey. At both pretest and posttest, facilitators were available to answer questions participants had about the survey content as well as assist in reading the survey.


Demographics. Demographic questions assessed participants' sex, age, education, marital status and ethnicity. Background information was also assessed by asking participants to report the age at which they were first incarcerated, the number of times they had been imprisoned and the type of crime they were serving time for. Questions that assessed negative life events (e.g., sexual molestation, physical abuse, one or both parents in prison, living in a single parent household) were also included.

Children. Information was collected regarding participants' children. Participants were asked to indicate the number of children they had, current primary caregiver of their children, whether they lived with their children prior to incarceration, amount of time spent with their children prior to incarceration and whether they planned to reunite with their children upon release. Participants also indicated how they kept in touch with their children (e.g., Letters, Phone, Journals/Diaries, Tapes/Books, In-person visits) and the frequency of this communication (e.g., Every few months, Once a month, Once a week, Daily).

Self-esteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (SES; Rosenberg, 1979) measured participants' global self-esteem. The scale consists of 10-items and responses are rated on a 4-point scale (0 = I don't agree at all to 3 = I very much agree). The scale has been validated for use with both male and female adolescents, adult and elderly populations. In the current study, alpha-reliability estimates for this scale were.86 at pretest and.85 at posttest, indicating good reliability.

Self-mastery. Pearlin and Schooler's (1978) Self-Mastery scale (SMS) was administered to assess the degree to which participants perceive that they have control over life events. The scale consists of 7-items and responses are rated on a 4-point scale, ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 4 (Strongly agree). Items include statements such as, "What happens to me in the future mostly depends on me." Alpha-reliability estimates in the current study were.74 at pretest and.79 at posttest, indicating adequate reliability.

Parental satisfaction. Parental satisfaction was assessed using the Kansas Parental Satisfaction scale (KPS; James et al., 1985), a brief 3-item survey. Items assess respondent's satisfaction with their child's behavior, themselves as a parent and their relationships with their children. Responses are given on a scale ranging from 1 (Extremely dissatisfied) to 7 (Extremely satisfied). For the current study, internal reliability was.66 at pretest and.70 at posttest.

Parental attitudes. Parental attitudes were assessed using items from the Index of Parental Attitudes (IPA; Hudson, 1982), which measures parents' attitudes toward and relationship problems with their children. The current study included 11-items from the IPA and included statements such as, "My child is irritating." Each item was rated on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (Never) to 5 (Always) with higher scores reflecting greater severity of problems. Alpha reliability estimates in the current study were.94 at pretest and.82 at posttest.

Parental confidence. Three statements were included to assess how participants feel they are doing as parents. Sample items included, "I am confident in my parenting skills" and "I already know all I need to know about parenting." Participants rated each item on a scale ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 5 (Strongly disagree). These items have been used in previous evaluations of PFP and have demonstrated acceptable reliability ([alpha] =.78; Gonzalez et al., 2007). However, in the current study reliability of these items was considerably lower at both pretest ([alpha] =.54) and posttest ([alpha] =.57).

Parenting from Prison knowledge test. A 24-item test was administered to assess knowledge of the PFP curriculum. The PFP test is a multiple choice test and each question has five response options. The content of this test was developed based on the objectives and core topics covered in PFP curriculum.


This study utilized a pretest/posttest design for data collection. Data analyses such as means, standard deviations and frequencies were conducted to describe demographic characteristics and to elicit information on the primary study variables. In order to test for program effects, each scale was scored and then a series of mixed ANOVAs were conducted. This approach to data analysis allowed for the examination of changes in the measures after participation in the PFP program.


Participant characteristics

The mean age for first incarceration was 23.8 years (SD = 8.6) and the average participant had been imprisoned 2.2 times (SD = 2.92). Most participants reported that they were serving time for drug-related offenses (36.2%), violent crimes (31.6%), property offenses (31.0%) or parole/probation violations (20.7%).

The majority of participants reported experiencing numerous negative life events. For example, 44.3% reported experiencing physical abuse, 42.0% had been threatened by a weapon, 49.4% had lived in a single parent household and 19.5% reported that at least one of their parents had served time in prison. As shown in Table 1, with the exception of war, a higher percentage of women than men reported experiencing each of the negative events.
Table 1 Negative Life Events Experienced

Event Total (%) Males (%) Females (%)

Foster care 14.3 8.8 23.7
Homelessness 29.3 25.5 34.7
Lived in a single parent 49.4 49.0 50.0
One/both parents time in prison 19.5 11.8 30.6
Physical abuse 44.3 27.5 68.1
Rape 20.7 4.9 43.1
Sexual molestation 26.4 9.8 50.0
Threatened by weapon 42.0 41.2 43.1
War 6.3 8.8 2.8


Participants had an average of 2.4 children (SD = 1.6) and 53.3% of the sample reported spending a lot of time with their child prior to their incarceration. Furthermore, 68.8% reported living with their child prior to incarceration and 97% planned to reunite with their child(ren) after release. Approximately 57% of participants reported that during their incarceration the other parent was the primary caretaker for their children and 16% reported that a grandparent was caring for their children. However, the primary caretaker for the children varied considerably based on the participants' sex. For the majority of males, the primary caretaker for their child was the other parent (72.8%) and only 2.5% reported that the primary caregiver for their child was a grandparent. However, among females, 41.3% reported that a grandparent was the primary caretaker for their child during incarceration and 28.3% reported the other parent as the primary caretaker.

Comparing measures at pre- and posttest

Participants were asked to report what methods of communication they used to stay in touch with their children and how often they communicated with their children. At pretest, the most common methods of communication reported was the use of letters and phone calls. For example, 77.9% of the sample reported communicating with their children by means of letters and, of those participants, 56% wrote letters on at least a weekly basis. Participants also communicated with their children using phone calls, with 72.1% of the sample reporting using this method of communication. Of those maintaining contact using phone calls, 66.9% reported calling their children on at least a weekly basis. Furthermore, 28.1% reported in-person visits with their children and, of those participants, 20% reported visiting with their children at least once per month. Less frequently used methods of communication reported during pretest included journals (7%) and tapes (6.4%).

At posttest participants tended to make better use of the various methods available to them to communicate with their children and did so more consistently. For example, 86.5% reported communicating with their children by means of letters at posttest and, of those participants, 66.7% did so at least once per week. The percentage of participants reporting that they maintain contact with their children via in-person visits increased to 31.0% at posttest and, of those participants, 33.3% reported visiting with their children in-person at least once per month. Increases were also found in the proportion of participants maintaining contact with their children by use of journals (21.8%) and tapes (11.5%). A decrease in contacting children by means of phone calls was observed at posttest, with 68.6% of participants reporting using this form of communication. However, the frequency of contact via phone calls increased at posttest, whereby those who reported using this method of communication, 65.6% reported doing so at least once per week. Thus, in comparison to pretest, posttest measures indicated an increase in the various methods of communication used and an increase in the frequency of contact after participation in the PFP program (see Figure 1). However, as previously mentioned, increases in communication were not observed with all modes of communication. Specifically, the total number of participants communicating with their children via phone calls decreased after participation in PFP.


For each of the dependent measures, a 2 (Time: pre vs. post) x 2 (Sex: male vs. female) mixed ANOVA was conducted. For analyses where the interaction with Sex was significant, follow-up simple main effects tests were conducted. In order to control for Type 1 error, the alpha was set at.025 for each simple main effects test. Refer to Table 2 for a summary of these analyses.
Table 2 Means and (Standard Deviations) for Measures at
Pre-test and Post-test

 Pre-test Post-test


SES 19.09 (a) 4.92 21.22 (a) 4.40
SMS 22.02 (b) 3.34 22.65 (b) 3.32
KPS 13.58 (c) 3.69 15.05 (c) 3.14
IPA 19.95 (d) 10.96 16.29 (d) 4.10
Men 17.28 (e) 4.08 16.49 4.21
Women 22.74 (e) (f) 14.65 16.09 (f) 3.99
Parental Confidence 9.77 (g) 1.91 11.03 (g) 1.76
Men 9.99 (h) 2.10 10.84 (h) 1.92
Women 9.56 (i) 1.67 11.24 (i) 1.58
PFP Exam 12.09 (j) 3.47 14.01 (j) 4.16

Note. Means sharing superscripts are significantly different
at the.05 level

Self-esteem. For self-esteem, the main effect for Time was significant, F(1,140) = 41.97, p <.001, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.23. Participants reported higher self-esteem at posttest (M = 21.22, SD = 4.40) than at pretest (M = 19.09, SD = 4.92). The interaction with Sex was not significant, F(1,140) = 3.55, p >.025.

Self-mastery. The main effect of Time for self-mastery was significant, F(1,134) = 4.17, p <.05, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.03. Participants sense of self-mastery significantly increased from pretest (M = 22.03, SD = 3.44) to posttest (M = 22.64, SD = 3.32). While the results were significant, it is important to note that the difference between mean scores at pretest and posttest was less than one point. In addition, the effect size was small, and the intervention only accounted for 3.0% of the observed increase in self-mastery. The interaction with Sex was not significant, F(1,134) = 0.08, p >.025.

Parenting measures. For parental satisfaction, the main effect for Time was also significant, F(1,138) = 34.79, p <.001, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.20. Participants reported a greater sense of parental satisfaction at posttest (M = 15.05, SD = 3.14) than at pretest (M = 13.58, SD = 3.69). As with previous analyses, the interaction with Sex was not significant, F(1,138) = 1.58, p >.05.

For parental attitudes (as measured by the IPA) higher scores on the scale are indicative of more negative attitudes toward parenting. Analyses revealed a significant main effect for Time, F(1,133) = 16.74, p <.001, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.11. Participants reported more positive attitudes toward parenting at posttest (M = 16.30, SD = 4.10) than at pretest (M = 19.95, SD = 10.96). Analyses also revealed a significant interaction between Time and Sex, F(1, 133) = 10.44, p < .01, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.07. Follow-up paired-sample t-tests indicated that parental attitudes significantly improved for women from pretest (M = 22.74, SD = 14.65) to posttest (M = 16.09, SD = 4.00), t(65) = 3.72, p <.001. However, parental attitudes for men did not significantly improve from pretest (M = 17.27, SD = 4.08) to posttest (M = 16.49, SD = 4.21), t(68) = 1.64, p >.05). Further, between-subjects t-tests indicated that men and women differed at pretest (t(143) = -3.82, p <.001), but not at posttest (t(143) = 1.00, p >.05), indicating that men's and women's parental attitudes became more similar as a result of participating in the PFP curriculum (see Figure 2).


For parental confidence, the main effect for Time was significant, F(1,135) = 47.53, p <.001, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.26. Greater parental confidence was observed at posttest (M = 11.04, SD = 1.76) than at pretest (M = 9.77, SD = 1.91). Analyses also revealed a significant interaction between Time and Sex, F(1, 135) = 5.00, p <.05 partial [[eta].sup.2] =.03. Follow-up paired-samples t-tests indicated parental confidence significantly improved for men from pretest (M = 9.99, SD = 2.10) to posttest (M = 10.84, SD = 1.92), t(68) = -3.04, p <.001. Similarly, parental confidence significantly improved for women from pretest (M = 9.56, SD = 1.67) to posttest (M = 11.24, SD = 1.58), t(67) = -7.12, p <.001. Further, between-subjects t-tests suggested that men and women did not significantly differ at pretest (t(141) =.833, p >.05) or at posttest (t(141) = -1.37, p >.05). Thus, improvements were observed in all three parenting measures from pretest to posttest, and for parental attitudes and parental confidence the interaction with Sex was significant.

PFP knowledge. In terms of knowledge of the PFP curriculum, there was a significant main effect for Time, F(1,146) = 20.15, p <.001, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.12. Participants answered more questions correctly at posttest (M = 14.01, SD = 4.16) than at pretest (M = 12.09, SD = 3.47). Results indicated that the interaction with Sex was not significant, F(1,140) = 1.43, p >.05. Thus, both men and women demonstrated improved knowledge of the PFP curriculum at posttest. Although the observed increase in knowledge of the PFP curriculum was significant, on average participants only answered two more questions on the knowledge exam correctly at posttest than at pretest.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of the PFP curriculum, which is offered in state prisons throughout the state of Colorado. As hypothesized individuals who participated in the PFP curriculum reported increases in self-esteem, self-mastery, parental knowledge, positive attitudes toward parenting and parental satisfaction. Many of the current findings are consistent with previous research on incarcerated parents and evaluations of parent education programs offered in correctional settings (e.g., Gonzalez et al., 2007; Thompson & Harm, 2000). However, the current investigation also offers some new insights into the effectiveness of parent education programs in prisons and offers further support for the efficacy of the PFP curriculum. Results suggest that the PFP program can result in measurable improvement in parenting knowledge and parenting attitudes among female and male incarcerated parents. Taken together, these findings provide further support for the importance of providing parenting education programs for incarcerated parents.

The demographics and life experiences of participants in this study were similar to other studies investigating incarcerated parents. For example, similar to previous research (Feinman, 1994; Wellisch et al., 1994) the current study found that a high percentage of participants reported experiencing many negative life experiences. Furthermore, the primary caregiver for participants' children during their incarceration was similar to patterns reported in previous research. For example, Mumola (2000) reported that for 85% of fathers and 28% of mothers in state prisons the child's current caregiver was the other parent. In comparison, Mumola (2000) reported that 53% of females and 13% of males in state prisons reported that a grandparent was currently caring for the child. In the current study, a similar pattern of results was found, whereby men were more likely to report that the other parent was the child's current caregiver, while women were more likely to report that the child was cared for by their grandparent. Similarities such as these suggest that this was a representative sample of incarcerated parents.

Overall, the findings of this study support prior research on the effectiveness of parent education programs in prison (e.g., Showers, 1993; Thompson & Harm, 2000). This initial evaluation of the PFP curriculum indicated that this parent education program led to a number of improvements among a sample of incarcerated parents. First, there was an overall increase in the use of different methods of communication from pretest to posttest, as well as in the frequency that each type of communication used. This is an important outcome, as for most children it is vital to maintain the connection with ones' parent throughout their incarceration (Nesmith & Ruhland, 2008). However, increases were not observed from pretest to posttest across all modes of communication with children. This finding is surprising given that the PFP curriculum aims to increase communication with children during incarceration. Many participants already reported frequent communication with their children at pretest, and it is possible that this may explain why increased communication was not observed for all modes of communication. This finding should be investigated further in future evaluations of PFP and, if necessary, changes should be made to the intervention to reinforce the importance of communication with children during incarceration.

Second, significant increases were observed in self-esteem, self-mastery, all three parenting measures and in knowledge of the PFP curriculum. Furthermore, many of the tests for interactions with participant sex were not significant, indicating that males and females benefited equally from participating in the PFP curriculum. Gender interactions were significant for attitudes toward parenting and parental confidence. For parental attitudes, women endorsed significantly more negative attitudes toward parenting than males at pretest but not at posttest. It is possible that participation in PFP corrected women's negative attitudes toward parenting, making men's and women's attitudes toward parenting more similar as a result of participating in PFP. Although significant increases were not observed for male's after participation in PFP, men in this sample already had positive attitudes parenting (indicated by low scores on the IPA at pretest), and it is possible that male's already positive attitudes toward parenting left little room for improvement. Clearly, further research is necessary to help explain these gender differences related to parenting measures used in the evaluation of PFP.

While this study provides support for the efficacy of the PFP curriculum, there are limitations to this study that should be addressed in future research. While increases were observed for many of the outcome measures used in this study, it is important to note that the effect sizes for some of these analyses were small. Specifically, the effect size for self-mastery indicated that the PFP curriculum only accounted for 3.0% of the increase in self-mastery. As PFP aims to increase participants' sense that they have control over their life events (i.e., self-mastery) it was anticipated that the intervention would have a greater impact on this construct. This suggests that it may be important to modify the PFP curriculum in such a way that expands the amount of curriculum time dedicated to topics related to self-mastery. Additionally, it is of concern that on average participants only answered two more questions correctly on the PFP knowledge test at posttest than at pretest. In the current study, 65.5% of the sample reported having less than or equivalent to high school education. One possibility is that the questions on the PFP knowledge exam were not written at an appropriate reading level for use in this population. For future evaluations of PFP, it may be necessary to reword questions on the PFP knowledge exam so that the questions are written at a more appropriate reading level.

In addition to these specific limitations, this study also suffers from limitations related to the study design. First, this evaluation tested the short-term effects of participating in PFP. The long-term effects of this program and whether incarcerated parents use the parenting skills they learned upon release remains unknown. Furthermore, this study utilized a pretest/posttest design and therefore did not have a control group. In order to address these limitations, a longitudinal randomized control trial of the PFP curriculum is currently being conducted. Finally, this study did not address the effects of participating in this curriculum on recidivism or whether the benefits of the PFP curriculum extend to the children of these incarcerated parents. Future research should investigate whether participating in the PFP curriculum has a positive effect on recidivism rates and whether children of incarcerated parents benefit from their parents taking part in parent education classes offered in prisons.

Despite these limitations, this study indicates that participants benefited from taking part in the PFP curriculum. This preliminary evaluation of PFP suggests that it is possible to increase parenting knowledge and attitudes through the implementation of parent education curriculum in correctional settings. As the majority of incarcerated parents in this sample planned to reunite with their children post release, hopefully the new skills and knowledge learned will be utilized in future interactions with their children. Based on these changes in parent-child interactions, it is possible that family bonds will be strengthened and this may provide further motivation for these individuals to stay out of prison. Despite these promising findings, additional evaluations of PFP are necessary in order further determine the efficacy of this program.


Given increasing rates of imprisonment in general and increases in the total number of incarcerated parents, the continued evaluation of parent education programs offered in prisons is critical. When incarcerated parents are released from prison, they often face numerous obstacles to successful reintegration. As such, correctional facilities can play a pivotal role by providing parent education that includes topics related to reintegration. By providing such programming, correctional facilities may increase the likelihood of successful societal and family integration. Parent education can teach parents new skills that may be used once they are reunited with their children post-release. Also noteworthy, is that a key to supporting children is supporting their parents and caregivers (Nesmith & Ruhland, 2008). Parent education programs offered in correctional settings share a common goal of strengthening family bonds. The strengthening of family bonds among families impacted by incarceration may lead not only to a reduction in recidivism but may also play an important role in reducing intergenerational cycles of incarceration. Thus, the continued evaluation of such parent education programs is of critical importance..


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Kristina Wilson (1), Patricia Gonzalez (2), Tony Romero (3), Kimberly Henry (1) and Christine Cerbana (1)

Colorado State University (1), San Diego State University (2), Colorado Department of Corrections (3)

Biographical Sketch

KRISTINA WILSON, M.S. is a graduate student in Applied Social Psychology at Colorado State University. Her research interests include HIV risk perception, HIV prevention and parent education in correctional facilities.

PATRICIA GONZALEZ, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at San Diego State University. Her research interests include parent education in correctional facilities, cardiovascular and cancer disparities.

TONY ROMERO, Ph.D. is the Director of Vocational and Academic programs for the Colorado Department of Corrections. His research interests lie in adult education through specific learning styles. This coincides with his desire to reduce recidivism through the education of inmates.

KIMBERLY L. HENRY, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Colorado State University. She completed her PhD in Biobehavioral Health at Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on adolescent pro-social development, school engagement and prevention science.

CHRISTINE B. CERBANA, M.S. is the Colorado Family Education, Resources and Training (CFERT) Project Coordinator at Colorado State University Extension. Her expertise is in the area of parent education and substance abuse prevention.

Correspondence regarding this manuscript can be sent to: Kristina Wilson, Colorado State University, Department of Psychology, 1876 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523. E-mail: Phone: (970) 491-5013 Fax: (970) 491-1032.
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Author:Wilson, Kristina; Gonzalez, Patricia; Romero, Tony; Henry, Kimberly; Cerbana, Christine
Publication:Journal of Correctional Education
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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