Panel Paper: A Qualitative Exploration of Reentry Service Needs: The Case of Fathers Returning from Prison

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row E (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Luke Muentner and Pajarita Charles, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Incarceration rates have risen 500% since the 1970’s, leading to a total of 2.2 million individuals in U.S. jails or prisons. Yet, nearly 95% of those imprisoned eventually return to the community, with 626,000 individuals released in 2016 alone. However, incarcerated individuals often receive minimal transition planning upon release, leaving them feeling ill-prepared to return to prior social roles and family responsibilities. When reentry programs are absent or fail, the costs are high, increasing risk for recidivism, community instability, and, in the case of fathers, lack of attention to parenting roles. Given the dearth of knowledge about reentry services for fathers, this qualitative study amplifies the voices of those with lived experiences to inform the design and delivery of programs that promote their success after prison.

The analysis is based on semi-structured interviews drawn from a larger qualitative study about fatherhood after prison with 38 individuals, including 19 fathers in reentry, 9 of their co-parenting mothers, and 10 of their relatives. All interviews, which averaged an hour in length, were professionally transcribed and checked for accuracy by the research team. Transcripts were coded using thematic analysis informed by aspects of grounded theory, established as reliable with strong inter-coder coefficients and validated through a series of trustworthiness strategies.

Results indicated that fathers, mothers, and relatives all identify gaps in current programs and services that could serve to successfully promote reentry outcomes and father involvement post-prison. To combat this, service provision should be multimodal with an emphasis on programming that enhances family connections but complemented by socioeconomic, self-care, and social support resources. Findings also emphasize the importance of tailoring programs to the needs of fathers in reentry, specifically promoting accessibility in terms of cost, transportation, and childcare and relevance in terms of topics, scheduling, and incentives. Participants largely agreed that these services would be most suitable if provided by individuals that reflect the target population and be located within the community for reasons such as ease of access, understandings of social and political climates, and out of support for local neighborhoods and agencies. Lastly, nearly all participants anticipated that previously incarcerated fathers and their families would likely be eager to enroll and actively engaged with such programs.

This study provides insight into the range of services that could be influential in promoting father engagement after release from prison. The programming needs and service delivery context identified by fathers, mothers, and relatives suggest that family-child-parent focused reentry services could be not only beneficial, but complementary to the more standard array of services that are more commonly offered to address structural barriers (i.e., employment and housing) faced in reentry. Policy and practice implications include strategies to promote father child contact throughout prison sentences to improve post-release relationships, formalize pre-release planning processes, employ research-informed service provision strategies, and remove structural barriers associated with reentry in order to create a larger capacity for fathers to focus on their roles as parents and better meet the needs of justice-involved families.