The effects of incarceration reverberate throughout the family system, stressing already fragile relationships and setting up the next generation to continue the cycle of addiction and criminal behavior. While inmates adjust to incarceration, their significant others are sentenced to a period of emotional and financial hardship, isolation, fear, and stigmatization that frequently goes unaddressed. With two million people in jail or prison in the United States, the devastating effect of incarceration on families has far reaching implications for society at large.
Therefore, as a preventive measure, and a key to reducing recidivism, Community Education Centers (CEC) believes that it is vital to educate and provide treatment to the families of offenders. The CEC family program addresses the multiple stressors facing families that have an incarcerated love one. By providing treatment for the entire family, the program helps all members of the family system cope with the experience of incarceration; maintain family connections; address pre-existing family problems, as well as the issues created by incarceration; and prepare for reentry into the family and society. Upon release, families are referred to community-based agencies where they continue the work they began during the period of incarceration.
The CEC family services program is designed to integrate family services into the overall treatment program. The family services program staff is committed to providing services to both the resident and his/her family and/or significant others in order to increase successful reintegration into the community and familial roles upon release. Additionally, CEC is committed to stopping the pattern of criminal and addictive behavior that passes down from generation to generation. As such, the CEC model used in the family services program is three generational - involving the resident and his/her parents, significant other, and children - and systemic, identifying all family members in the system that support or inhibit positive change. The focus of the model is to maintain connection among family members during incarceration, heal wounds and make amends from prior behavior, learn new coping strategies, and anticipate future problems.
CEC's family services are embedded within a family treatment model that understands and embraces family involvement as important to resident success. The program aims to assist in the overall improvement of the residents' vocational and educational productivity, family and peer-group relationships, emotional and overall health, social life, and community involvement. The program philosophy asserts that addressing the mental, behavioral, and emotional needs of the resident within a family/system context is not only beneficial for the resident, but also for familial and significant relationships.
A solution-focused, family-centered treatment approach is utilized by CEC. Problems are examined as they exist in the "here and now", and solutions, resolutions, and action plans are developed. Treatment promotes familial affection and communication, as well as appropriate family support and interaction. Family members are encouraged to hold residents accountable and responsible for their behavior and actions, but are also provided with the tools needed to support their loved one during the reentry process. The treatment model appreciates and incorporates the lifecycle stage of each family and includes discussions of necessary changes in family roles, patterns, and rules. Furthermore, an appreciation for the gender and cultural systems guiding the family principles, goals, and expectations is also an essential component of the treatment philosophy.
The New Jersey Model
In a cooperative effort between the Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy at Seton Hall University, the Marriage and Family Therapy Departments of Kean University and Iona College, and Community Education Centers (CEC), a program has been developed that addresses the multiple stressors facing families who have an incarcerated loved one. Under the direction of Louis Barretti, PhD, Licensed Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and AAMFT approved supervisor, students pursuing a Ph.D., Ed.S., or M.A. are placed at one of six sites in New Jersey where inmates, referred to as "residents", are awaiting release from incarceration. Under Dr. Barretti's supervision, marriage and family therapy students conduct genogram assessments, provide couples and family therapy, facilitate multi-family groups, and conduct Safe Family Groups for female residents who have experienced the co-occurrence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction. In an attempt to reduce the trauma of incarceration, the rituals that hold families together, such as celebration of Christmas, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, and Father's Day, are maintained.