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The Importance of Family Support in Reentry
By Margaret diZerega, Director, Family Justice Program, Vera Institute of Justice, and Shawn Rogers, Policy Analyst, Council of State Governments Justice Center
Published: 07/25/2011

Family c Reentry practitioners agree that stable housing, employment, health care and addiction treatment are among the most important needs that reentry programs must address prior to release. While providing these services, case managers and reentry planners should tap into the individual’s social support network. Working with an individual’s social support network enhances these interventions and increases the likelihood of successful reentry.

Why Ask About Family?, a report recently released by the Vera Institute of Justice, describes the ways corrections professionals can help strengthen an individual’s social networks. For the most part, working closely with families in reentry planning does not require additional resources or expertise. Rather, family-focused work can be incorporated into the services and supports that reentry programs already provide. For example, a corrections professional can talk to the individual to help him or her recognize the importance of his or her natural support system. Why should corrections professionals prioritize helping an individual identify his or her natural support system? Simply put, these networks provide emotional and financial support. They can help direct the returning individual to prospective job opportunities. If childcare and eldercare is an issue, these networks can help. They also help the individual reconnect and reintegrate with the community at large.

In many instances this social support network may be comprised of family members. That said, corrections professionals should be careful not to define family too narrowly. If someone cannot identify supportive relatives, they should be asked about the other significant relationships in their lives.

Corrections staff should use family-focused language (i.e., language that considers individuals in the context of their broadly defined family)—and should be mindful of promoting an individual’s pro-social network—from when an individual enters the facility through his or her release. At intake, corrections administrators can ask the following questions to help facilitate this type of discussion:
  • Who helps you?
  • Who stays in touch with you?
  • Who is there for you?
  • What is going well for you?
  • Who will be supportive when you go home?
  • Who will rely on you?

Similarly, they can incorporate family-related questions into the initial risks/needs assessment. Corrections administrators can implement policies and practices that reduce barriers to family contact and that encourage supportive family involvement. For instance, contact with family and other loved ones during incarceration should be supported and encouraged, rather than used merely as a form of punishment (such as revoking phone call privileges for bad behavior).

Family-focused reentry planning should take into account the needs of incarcerated parents as well as their children. Corrections professionals should encourage visitation when appropriate. Similarly, contact between the incarcerated parent and the child should be enabled when possible. Such visits help to maintain the child/parent bond, and can help smooth family reunification once the parent is released. Moreover, by maintaining frequent contact with their children during incarceration, an individual is less likely to have their parental rights revoked.

To learn more about this important topic, please see the following resources:

Editor's note: Reprinted from The National Reentry Resource Center website - Original publication date June 27th, 2011


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