Supporting Healthy Marriages among Fathers with Histories of Incarceration

Publication Date: April 18, 2017

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This brief, one of three in a series, focuses on Community-Centered Responsible Fatherhood Ex-Prisoner Reentry Pilot Project (Fatherhood Reentry) programs’ efforts to support healthy marriage among program participants. Fatherhood Reentry programs included several activities to strengthen relationships between fathers and their partners/coparents and to encourage healthy coparenting and family reunification. This brief describes the activities provided by the Fatherhood Reentry programs and offers recommendations, based on an implementation study of the Fatherhood Reentry projects, for practitioners implementing family-focused programming for fathers and their partners/coparents impacted by incarceration.


Previous research has found that when a person is incarcerated, their family members may face the loss of various forms of emotional and/or material support. Activities that help fathers who are incarcerated or who have been recently released from incarceration maintain, build, and repair relationships with their families have the potential to improve outcomes for fathers, their children, and entire families. Given the promise of these activities, Fatherhood Reentry programs implemented services designed to facilitate family reunification and stability. The purpose of this brief is to document programs’ healthy marriage activities and offer recommendations for practitioners interested in this work.  

Key Findings and Highlights

As part of the healthy marriage component, healthy relationship activities implemented by the Fatherhood Reentry programs were designed to help support family reunification and stability by

  • strengthening relationships and encouraging effective coparenting between fathers and their partners/coparents by providing curriculum-based classes on healthy relationships and parenting, encouraging couple/family interaction through structured activities, and assisting fathers with navigating child support; and
  • preventing domestic violence by providing domestic violence assessments and screenings, domestic violence programming, and referrals to domestic violence treatment agencies.


From October 2011 through September 2015, the evaluation team undertook an implementation study of Fatherhood Reentry programs. Team members engaged in many data collection activities including reviews of program materials and documents, bimonthly teleconferences with core program staff to discuss program implementation and key modifications, site visits to observe staff-selected program operations and activities, semi-structured interviews with a broader set of program staff and stakeholders to gather data on implementation, and participant focus groups to clarify their perspectives on program implementation.


This brief presents several recommendations for practitioners implementing family-focused programming for fathers impacted by incarceration and their partners/coparents.

  • Make partner/coparent interaction activities a targeted and meaningful program component.
  • Consider seeking funding sources that allow for services to address the needs of fathers’ partners/coparents in addition to fathers’ needs.
  • Be willing to work with partners on family reunification as families are ready.


Fontaine, Jocelyn, Josh Eisenstat, and Lindsey Cramer (2017). Supporting Healthy Marriages among Fathers with Histories of Incarceration: Activities and Lessons from Six Responsible Fatherhood Programs, OPRE Report #2017-03, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action, Inc.
Lutheran Social Services
New Jersey Department of Corrections Office of Substance Abuse Programming and Addiction Services
PB&J Family Services, Inc.
The RIDGE Project, Inc.
Rubicon Programs, Inc.
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