Throughout the course of its six-year existence, Connecting for Success implemented several support services to incarcerated parents and young people who have or have had incarcerated parents that have shown positive outcomes. Among the supports that staff deem most successful are the 72-hour stability plan, the Anger Management Mindful Movements class for incarcerated fathers, and the Mental Management Mindful Movements training for correctional officers. The recidivism rate among Connecting for Success participants is significantly lower than that of incarcerated parents in Dorchester County who are not involved in the program. The recidivism rate among previously incarcerated parents who elect to receive services from Connecting for Success is 5-15%, compared to the county-wide average recidivism rate of 60-80%.
Mental Health Therapy (for Children)
Connecting for Success co-founders provide mental health interventions to young people in two Title I elementary schools in Dorchester County, Maryland, who have or have had incarcerated parents. Through this service, the program works with children to process the complicated emotions and circumstances that are often associated with having a parent who is incarcerated. When the children are open and willing, Connecting for Success staff also engage them in writing letters to their parent to maintain family ties throughout incarceration. Maintaining communication and family relationships during incarceration benefits the mental well-being of both the parent and child and can make the process of reentering into the home and community a smoother transition.
Parent–Child Academic Involvement (for Incarcerated Parents)
Parental involvement in children’s academics while still incarcerated contributes significantly to the positive outcomes experienced by the young people participating in Connecting for Success. Program staff work with a child’s school to relay important information to the parent about the student’s academic interests and abilities. For example, program staff obtain information from the child’s teacher regarding reading level and relay that information to the parent so that facilitated reading time can be conducted between parent and child via phone calls or video calls.
Connecting for Success also coordinates between the child’s school, teacher, and the correctional facility to allow incarcerated parents to virtually attend parent-teacher conferences. Program staff have found that these conferences not only lift the spirits of the incarcerated parent by empowering them to remain an active influence in their child’s life, but that the child’s teacher often leaves the meeting feeling impressed, satisfied, and hopeful for the child’s academic trajectory. One teacher with decades of parent-teacher conference experiences noted that the virtual conference with her student’s incarcerated parent was the best parent-teacher conference she had ever experienced. This teacher and many others report to Connecting for Success staff that the parent came prepared with thoughtful questions, left with a detailed understanding of their child’s personal and academic strengths, and developed an action plan for working with their child on areas of improvement.
Goal Planning (for Incarcerated and Recently Released Parents)
Goal planning is a central component of the engagement that Connecting for Success conducts with incarcerated parents throughout their time in jail or prison. Staff work alongside the parent to develop a support plan that includes goals, objectives, and barriers to successful re-entry. A personalized 72-hour stability plan is a vital piece of that process. For many recently released individuals, reentry can surface feelings of stress and discomfort as they reorient themselves to their families, communities, and sometimes to the triggers that may have led them down a path of justice system involvement. Furthermore, once previously incarcerated parents leave the correctional facility and in turn cease engagement with Connecting for Success, program staff have no way of locating the individual to ensure their physical and mental stability and provide them with necessary resources.
The 72-hour stability plan was developed to address this concern. While still incarcerated, parents create a plan of who will pick them up upon release, where they will stay for the first several days on the outside, and when and how they will receive transportation to meet with Connecting for Success staff or other professionals to receive necessary resources to continue progressing on their mental health journey. Post-release services provided by Connecting for Success are limited given the program’s focus on currently incarcerated parents. However, staff provide fathers who participated in the program with a Reentry Resource Kit including various toiletries, referrals to community resources (e.g., mental health professionals, job training and employment agencies, food banks, health clinics, clothing resale shops), and instructions for continuing their yoga practice. Establishing what their first 72 hours after release will look like has proven to mitigate a great deal of unplanned stressors for program participants.
Life Skills Lessons (for Incarcerated Parents)
For much of its lifespan, Connecting for Success has offered group life skills lessons to incarcerated parents inside jails and prisons. Topics covered in the life skills curriculum include, but are not limited to, creating personal goals during and after reentry, anger and emotions management, writing resumes, and applying for a job.
Within the past two years these life skills lessons have seen a fundamental adjustment. Rather than remaining a curriculum separated into sessions that build off one another, which can pose challenges to newly incarcerated parents joining sessions whose participants have already been present for a series of scaffolded lessons, Connecting for Success’ life skills lessons are now also delivered as free-standing lessons. Each session focuses on a unique skill so that incarcerated parents may join lessons at any point in time without missing necessary information from past sessions.
Anger Management Mindful Movements Yoga Classes (for Incarcerated Fathers)
Anger Management Mindful Movements Yoga classes are a pillar of the Connecting for Success program. These classes have two components: a 45-minute psychoeducational lesson on how trauma impacts the brain and a 45-minute yoga practice emphasizing mindfulness.
Psychoeducation refers to the process of providing information and knowledge to patients about various facets of their mental or emotional health and treatment, so that they can work together with mental health professionals for a better overall outcome.7 Educating the participant about their own mental health concerns, in this case how the trauma they have been exposed to affects their brain, is an important aspect of many therapeutic practices that seek to help individuals understand and process their past as well as their current mental/emotional state.
The second component of the Anger Management Mindful Movements Yoga class puts the research and information discussed in the psychoeducation portion into practice. Through instructor-facilitated trauma-sensitive yoga exercises focused on breathing and mindfulness, the class provides participating incarcerated fathers with an outlet for their bodies to process and heal from trauma in a way that is not as verbally vulnerable as talk therapy can be.
Mental Management Mindful Movements (for Corrections Officers)
Much like the Anger Management Mindful Movements Yoga classes for incarcerated fathers, Connecting for Success’ class for correctional officers entitled Mental Management Mindful Movements prioritizes both psychoeducation on how first- and second-hand trauma affects the brain as well as the implementation of mindful yoga practices. The Mental Management Mindful Movements class for staff at correctional facilities is offered as an annual five-hour training for credit. Launched in 2018, the Mental Management Mindful Movements training was developed to explore the healing properties of yoga as a treatment for trauma-related stress and mental health concerns after discovering a dire need for mental and physical supports for correctional officers and leadership upon speaking with staff about their self-care practices and psychological well-being.
Due to a job that regularly exposes them to violence, direct threats to their bodily safety, and a large amount of stress, correctional officers experience abnormally high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and major depression disorder, compared to the general population.8 Trauma-related physical health concerns are also common among correctional staff. Studies show that corrections officers experience work-related intentional injuries by another person at a rate higher than that of police officers and other public safety professionals.9
This training class has shown positive effects on the well-being of jail and prison staff, with participants universally endorsing the class and indicating a notable reduction in stress, anxiety levels, and bodily discomfort following its completion. Among staff who participated in the training, 100% indicated that they learned something new about the benefits of breathing on their mental well-being and brain functioning. After participating in the psychoeducation component as well as the yoga practice, a majority of these correctional staff (many of whom had little to no prior experience with yoga) also explained the class — and the practice of yoga at large — as physically and emotionally therapeutic. Participants also noted the class’s impact on their improved cognitive functioning.10 Find these and other findings from a research study conducted on the Mental Management Mindful Movements course in the Resources section.
Transition to Reentry Resource Kits
Upon establishing the program, Connecting for Success staff recognized a heightened need for supports to ease the transition from receiving services inside jails and prisons to receiving reentry services offered by the program post-release. Since then, staff have expanded their support to address the transitional phase between the correctional facilities and the reentry services already being offered by program staff upon release.
Added supports to create a more seamless transition from incarceration to reentry include the following:
- Resource bags containing a variety of toiletries (e.g., shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste), lotion, a t-shirt, a notebook and pen, and a contact list of community resources
- Yoga Starter Kits for fathers who participated in the Anger Management Mindful Movements class, so that they can continue the practice at home or in the community upon release
7 Sarkhel, S., Singh, O. P., & Arora, M. (2020). Clinical Practice Guidelines for Psychoeducation in Psychiatric Disorders General Principles of Psychoeducation. Indian journal of psychiatry, 62(Suppl 2), S319–S323. https://doi.org/10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_780_19
8 Regehr, C., Carey, M., Wagner, S., Alden, L., Buys, N., Corneil, W., Fyfe, T., Fraess-Phillips, A., Krutop, E., Matthews, L, Randall, C., White, M., & White, N. (2021). Prevalence of PTSD, Depression and Anxiety disorders in correctional officers: A Systematic Review. Corrections: Policy, Practice, and Research, 6(3), 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1080/23774657.2019.1641765
9 Denhof, M. D., & Spinaris, C. G. (2016). Prevalence of trauma-related health conditions in correctional officers: A profile of Michigan corrections organization members. Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, 1, 1-37. Retrieved from http://www.corrections.com/system/assets/0000/1266/MCO_Paper_FINAL.pdf