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Family Strengthening Project

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