New educational program supports parent-child connections during incarceration

Ben and Cory, dads in the Dane County Jail and Parenting Inside Out students read pamphlet together

 “Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. And a lot of times our parents only gave us what their parents gave them, and so this is an opportunity for us to learn things that we didn’t necessarily receive from our parents.”

— alum from Parenting Inside Out, a nationwide program for incarcerated parents

Five million children in our country have an incarcerated parent, often leading to fractures in the sacred bond between parent and child. Developed in the state of Oregon by a team of psychologists, policymakers, and instructional designers, Parenting Inside Out is an interactive program that helps incarcerated parents built parenting skills and maintain connections with their children during this difficult time of separation. UW–Madison’s Social Work Professor Pajarita Charles is facilitating the implementation of the program in our prisons in partnership with the Department of Corrections’ Reentry Unit. Their work aims to develop best practices that can inform implementation elsewhere.

With its intensive, evidence-based curriculum, Parenting Inside Out is designed specifically to support incarcerated parents with communication techniques, problem-solving skills and parenting strategies. Dr. Charles currently supports the implementation of this program at all three women’s correctional facilities in Wisconsin and at Green Bay Correctional Institution, a maximum-security men’s prison.

Dr. Charles notes that the program is also helping to change the culture within the institution and that the cooperation and encouragement by correctional staff has been critical: “Collaboration with staff at the prisons has been central to implementing this new program and we are excited about continuing this work to promote education among incarcerated mothers and fathers in Wisconsin.” Just like opportunities for higher education in prison, the ripple effect is real: the Parenting Inside Out curriculum is transforming the lives of incarcerated parents and their families and communities!