Family Strengthening Project

Family Strengthening Project web_admin Wed, 01/05/2022 - 16:25

Recent studies have found that nearly 3 million children in the United States have a parent serving time in prison or jail at any given time.

Although policies that support parent-children relationships during parental incarceration have clear benefits, they also have several implementation challenges. To address these challenges, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), in collaboration with the Urban Institute and Community Works West, have developed a set of model practices to facilitate parent-child communication and contact during parental incarceration.

Please read below to see if your facility would qualify to be considered for a pilot site.

a father and sonIntroduction

The Family Strengthening Project is a collaborative initiative with funding from BJA managing from NIC and cooperative awardee, Urban Institute. The goal of the Family Strengthening Project is to develop training materials and implement evidence-informed, model policies that can be adopted by local jails and state prisons to reduce the traumatic impact of parental incarceration on children and improve reentry outcomes for parents.


Jails and prisons are active, high stress settings and administrators are charged with running safe and secure institutions while simultaneously providing opportunities for justice involved men and women to reduce risk and address needs. This requires enormous efforts in systems challenged by budget cuts, resource deficits, position vacancies, high turnover, competing missions (secure settings while providing rehabilitative opportunities), and all of the issues that go with systems that operate on a 24/7 basis. Over the past decade, research based correctional practice has created opportunities to be more effective and to focus attention and resources based on risk and need. A central premise of that research is showing us that sustaining and repairing connections with family and those identified as sources of support for justice involved men and women has tremendous positive impact on institutional behavior, program participation, planning for reentry, benefiting not only the individual incarcerated but contributing to more humane correctional environments. The challenge is building those types of activities into policy, practice and procedures within corrections and criminal justice to both improve system and individual outcomes.

Pilot Site Selection

The pilot sites should be geographically diverse, represent a range of security levels, and serve male and female populations. The pilot sites should also demonstrate support from executive leadership, a clear need for assistance and commitment to implementing change. Lastly, all pilot sites should agree to allow the awardee access to the site, access to staff and inmates to gather information about the potential for implementation of model policies. To the best extent possible, pilot sites should currently collect information on family communication, including the number of visits, phone calls, and other contact families receive.

The awardee will provide each pilot site training or technical assistance (TA) to help them overcome barriers and implement the model policies. It is expected that at least one in-person visit will be required to successfully provide assistance to each pilot site. Training and TA will consist of working with pilot sites to implement as many of the model policies as possible. Training and TA may also include the identification of potential community partners, strategies for funding the implementation of model policies, and problem-solving around implementation. The awardee should gather feedback from each of the pilot sites and with guidance from NIC, partner agencies, and the SME committee, make appropriate revisions to the training materials based on that feedback. The awardee will also present findings through webinars and conference workshops.

The Urban Institute will host an information webinar to answer questions about the application and pilot site selection process on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 from 1:00pm-2:00pm Eastern Time. 
Click Here for Speaker Biographies. For more information on the webinar, including how to register, please visit

Areas of Implementation

Training and Core Competence

  • Build staff buy-in on the importance of family-centered practices
  • Improve understanding of family needs and behaviors
  • Develop specific skills among staff
  • Implement core competencies into training

Intake and Assessment

  • Tell parents about resources and gather information about immediate parental needs at intake
  • Administer ongoing assessments
  • Prioritize parents based on need
  • Use nonuniformed staff to administer assessments

Family Notification and Information Provision

  • Notify families about parents’ status
  • Create or update facility website
  • Provide information at the facility

Classes and Groups

  • Identify parent-focused classes and groups
  • Select, design, and implement classes

Visitor Lobbies

  • Create a welcoming environment
  • Make visitor lobbies child and family friendly


  • Review visiting guidelines and procedures
  • Make physical changes to visiting space
  • Offer contact visits
  • Make noncontact visits more family friendly
  • Supplement contact and noncontact visits with video visits

Parent Child Communication

  • Offer parents free or subsidized phone calls with their children
  • Provide parents with opportunities to communicate with individuals and systems that affect their children
  • Revise policies for mailing letters and packages
  • Consider electronic communication

Caregiver Support

  • Involve caregivers in programming in facilities
  • Provide free or low-cost transportation to and from facility
  • Partner with a community-based provider to offer childcare
  • Connect caregivers to support groups
  • Offer separate programming for caregivers

Family-Focused Reentry

  • Include caregivers and children in the reentry planning and programming
  • Provide reentry information to visiting families

Webinar Recording

Webinar Recording web_admin Wed, 01/05/2022 - 16:40

Family Connections in Correctional Facilities: Informational Webinar on TTA Opportunity

The Webinar Aired Live Tuesday, August 28, 2018

To Download Video, Right Click and Choose Download File or Save Target As

Speaker Biographies

Rachel Brushett, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice

Rachel Brushett is a Senior Policy Advisor working primarily with the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Diagnostic Center. The Diagnostic Center provides customized training and technical assistance to communities across the United States experiencing public safety and criminal justice issues with on-site assistance and coordination of Department of Justice (DOJ) support. Dr. Brushett joined the Diagnostic Center team in January 2017 and provides support for Federal team operations and ongoing engagements with local communities. She also provides subject matter expertise in the areas of quantitative measurement and data analysis. In addition to working with the Diagnostic Center, she assists in managing the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s) Justice Reinvestment portfolio. Before joining OJP and the OJP Diagnostic Center, she was a Research Officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project working with states to enact juvenile and adult Justice Reinvestment projects. Prior to that, she worked as a contractor for BJA, providing analytic support for grant program performance measurement. She received both an MS and a PhD in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati.

Hilary Cuthrell, National Institute of Corrections, US Department of Justice

Hilary Cuthrell, PhD, is a developmental psychologist with expertise in young children of incarcerated parents. She is currently a Correctional Program Specialist at the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), where she manages the Family Connections Project. Dr. Cuthrell’s expertise has centered on parent-child contact and visitation within both state and local correctional facilities throughout the country. She has worked with incarcerated parents, their children, and their children’s caregivers both within correctional facilities and the community for nearly a decade.

Bryce Peterson, Senior Research Associate, Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute

Bryce Peterson’s research at the Justice Policy Center has focused on examining issues related to the impact of incarceration on children and families. Dr. Peterson is the co-Principal Investigator of the Family Connections in Correctional Facilities Project where is he leading the development, implementation, and evaluation of a set of model practices designed to reduce the barriers present in correctional institutions that hinder children’s ability to cultivate and maintain relationships with their incarcerated parents. Previously, Dr. Peterson co-led Urban’s work funded by NIC to identify and document promising practices for children of justice-involved parents. The project disseminated a framework document and three toolkits for practitioners in the field on implementing parental arrest policies, family impact statements, and family-focused jail programming. He also co-led the development of a white paper describing the various impacts of different prison and jail visit modalities on incarcerated parents and their children, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. He received his PhD in Criminal Justice from John Jay College, City University of New York.

Jocelyn Fontaine, Senior Research Fellow, Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute

Jocelyn Fontainehas more than a decade of experience in criminal justice research and has specific expertise on the impact of incarceration on families, including children. Along with Dr. Peterson, Dr. Fontaine is co-Principal Investigator of the Family Connections in Correctional Facilities Project designed to develop, implement, and evaluate a set of model practices intended to reduce the barriers present in correctional institutions that inhibit children’s ability to cultivate and maintain relationships with their incarcerated parents. Previously, Dr. Fontaine co-directed with Dr. Peterson the NIC cooperative agreement on children of incarcerated parents and co-authored the four practitioner-friendly documents and toolkits describing the promising initiatives and strategies designed to mitigate the impact of parental justice-involvement on children Additionally, Dr. Fontaine directed the multi-site evaluation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-funded Community-Centered Responsible Fatherhood Ex-Prisoner Reentry Pilot Project, which included an implementation assessment of six responsible fatherhood reentry programs for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated fathers and their children and families. Finally, she was part of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s advisory committee for developing model policies to safeguard children of arrested parents. Dr. Fontaine received her PhD from the American University in Justice and Public Policy.

Lindsey Cramer, Research Associate, Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute

Lindsey Cramer’s research focuses on the impact of the justice system on fathers, children, and families, as well as the correctional and community-based interventions designed to mitigate the effects of parental justice involvement. Ms. Cramer is working with Drs. Peterson and Fontaine to develop and implement model practices in correctional facilities designed to support and facilitate contact and communication between incarcerated parents and their children. Previously, Ms. Cramer helped identify and document innovative practices to help mitigate the impact of parental arrest and incarceration on children, resulting in a series of practitioner-friendly materials. Ms. Cramer also manages the implementation, outcome, and impact evaluation of the Fathers Advancing Communities Together (FACT) Program in Contra Costa County, California, and helped lead the implementation evaluation of the six Community-Centered Responsible Fatherhood Ex-Prisoner Reentry Pilot Projects. Ms. Cramer received her BA in economics from The College of Wooster.

Alina Martinez, Lead Coordinator, One Family Program, Community Works West

As Lead Coordinator, Alina Martinez oversees the implementation of the One Family Program at the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, California, the largest San Francisco County Jail facility. Ms. Martinez manages all aspects of the contact visiting program, parent education program, and one-on-one therapeutic services. She also provides one-on-one therapy with parents in jail and arranges and participates in the Transitional Goodbye Visits for parents and their children when parents are sentenced to state prison. Ms. Martinez also works directly with the Jail Captain, Facility Commanders, Watch Commanders, and other deputized staff as well as Community Works West staff to ensure the smooth delivery of all program services. She participates in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department's monthly Visiting Committee meetings during which she discusses family services operations, policy or department changes, issues that might arise around the visiting policy, and issues that are brought up by One Family participants or children’s caregivers. Ms. Martinez also liaises with other community partners such as the San Francisco Unified School District to train school counselors and teachers about the impacts of parental incarceration on children and schedules the in-custody parent-teacher conferences between parents and teachers. Ms. Martinez earned her Masters in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in marriage and family therapy from the University of San Francisco.

Questions and Answers

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