Reentry Through a Child's Eyes Provides Family Support for Inmates and Their Families

Safeguarding the health and well-being of the children of incarcerated parents in Allegheny County, Pa.

Dates of Project: July 2010 through December 2013

Description: Called “Reentry Through a Child’s Eyes,” the Pittsburgh-based project developed family support services for inmates and families. These services include parenting classes for inmates, monthly family visits in prison, weekly telephone calls, and coordination of services for inmate and family beginning six months before an inmate’s prison release and continuing in the community after inmates were reunited with their families.

The family services project was designed to mitigate the emotional distress suffered by children with incarcerated parents, prevent family deterioration resulting from separation, and make prison visitations less traumatic. Ultimately, the project aimed to lower the number of children who experience the re-incarceration of a parent.

The project was a key component of the Jail Collaborative Reentry Program launched in 2010 by the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative. Created in 2000, the collaborative is an alliance of the Allegheny County Jail, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the Allegheny County Health Department, and the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. It works with community and civic leaders to improve public safety by reducing recidivism.

The Collaborative contracted with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania to provide the project’s family support services and hired the Urban Institute to conduct an evaluation.

Key Results

  • “Reentry Through a Child’s Eyes” delivered family support services to 802 inmates, 614 children, and 552 adult family members.

  • The program transformed existing jail policies and initiated monthly, structured family visits. Inmates and families participated in 503 visits that allowed inmates physical contact and playtime with their children in a child-friendly environment.

  • The program initiated 2,450 weekly conference calls among inmates, their children, and their caregivers/familiesInmates, coached in effective communication by family support specialists, had an opportunity to establish a regular connection with their children.

  • During and after incarceration, the program provided a continuum of support services in the jail and in the community for inmates, their children, and families.

“They come through the door and, magically, they step into this big room and in every area there are these age-appropriate colorful rugs, and there are little tables and chairs, and each one of 15 sections is marked ‘the Smith family’ or ‘the Jones family’ so everybody knows where to go, and the inmate is already sitting there. You would watch that door open, and the kids are running to their parents and jump into their arms. And you see these huge men bury their faces into their little kids trying to hide their tears. And their little kids are hugging them and laughing.”—Project Director Amy McNicholas Kroll

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New jail policy allows inmates physical contact & playtime with their children in Allegheny County, PA