Incarceration Activities & Programs
Florida's prisons are but a mere reflection of the female inmate population in state and federal prisons across this nation. Upon a closer look, one can see that the faces of these institutions are changing. There is an alarming increase of female inmates, in particular, mothers. Female inmates make up the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Women imprisoned for drug law violations increased 431% between 1985 and 1996. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. increased by 57 percent compared to 34 percent of men (Harrison & Beck, 2006). Eighty percent of incarcerated women are mothers. Fifty Eight percent of the children of these mothers are younger than 10 years of age. The most damaging and long lasting of these staggering figures on the children and families left behind is the long range consequences of separation. A mother's incarceration in particular is of grave concern, because she is more likely to have been the only involved parent figure in the children's lives before incarceration. Because she can no longer be there physically with the children, no matter how functional or dysfunctional parent she was prior to incarceration, the family is immediately thrown into crises and fragmentation that usually destroy their lives at an accelerated pace. The mere fact that the mothers are in prison undermines families' potential to succeed as a whole or in part across the individuals' life span.
Florida Family Network's Services to Incarcerated Mothers
FFN has been conducting bi-lingual (Spanish & English) parenting classes in low security facilities housing female inmates in the judicial district of Northern Florida To date (June 09), FFN has taught parenting classes to 633 mothers. The total number of children from these mothers to date is 1,804. (see chart below) The racial makeup of these classes consists of the following. Note that the following statistics are a close approximate of the true percentage of mothers who enrolled in parenting classes. White inmates mothers make up 37%, followed by 30% Hispanics, and 29% African Americans. There were smaller percentages of other racial and ethnic populations, such as Haitians, at a mere 4%, followed by Native Americans at 3.9% and the remaining 2% included a mixture of other groups, i.e. Italians, German, Japanese, and a mix of two or more ethnic groups.
The primary focus of teaching incarcerated mothers parenting is the overall impact of their incarceration on the children and families they left behind. This focus incorporates a continuous thread woven through out the course. The parenting curriculum is of a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary methodology designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual thought, reflective and independent thinking. The interdisciplinary method is built upon life skills; rebuilding and strengthening self esteem; finance: budgeting, banking, debt management, homeownership and entrepreneurship; psychology; personal experiences; child growth and development, preventing the intergenerational criminal and substance abuse cycle, Parenting Styles (and the influences of temperament; educational achievement; culture and socio-economic status; character development; substance abuse; domestic/sexual violence; problem solving; family values; women's health/family health; and reuniting the family - transitioning back into the family.
The parenting class is comprised of 28 eight sessions and it draws upon the strength, mistakes, lessons, reflections and experiences of the mothers. This method is anchored upon best practices, family values, morals, standards and common sense. We encourage these mothers to gain knowledge and adopt behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that will lead to a high level of personal responsibility, integrity, respect, and values that is anchored on an understanding that their best interest in their children's growth and development is more important than any other elements in their lives.
FFN's Services to Children and Caretakers of Incarcerated Mothers
From 2003 - 2008, FFN provided a continuum of family support services to approximately 7,288 children and 8,422 inmates and the caretakers of their children. These family members travel across this country, including travel from a few Latin countries. The program is designed to strengthen and support family bonds. All services are provided in both Spanish and English and are rendered in a special children/parenting visiting room of the prisons. At these facilities, the children and their mothers are provided with a variety of art activities, games (educational and non educational), and books to stimulate conversation and enhance relationships and family values. The purpose of the center and its interventions with the incarcerated parent and children is to assist the mother in restructuring her concept and support of family, and preserve the family unit as much as she possibly can during her incarceration and re-entry back home. The centers are nurturing, home-like environments in a healthy space. Occasionally guidance is given to parents to constructively engage in conversations around a number of issues that impact the children in particular, and the family structure at home in general. A good percentage of the mothers who have visits have gone through the parenting class. As research has indicated, those incarcerated individuals who take advantage of prison's programs, especially education, and who have received visitations from their families, support, and a constant engagement with their children are less likely to return to prison.
Other Curriculum Development
In 2004, FFN partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families and wrote/published the following curriculum, "Being the Parent Your Child Needs - A Parenting Curriculum for Parents Receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Who are Recovering from Substance Abuse and Mental Illnesses". This curriculum is used throughout Florida by local/county providers who receive TANF funding.