University of Missouri outreach workers started a family support program in 1999 at the state’s maximum security prison in Potosi. The Living Interactive Family Education program, or 4-H LIFE, is now offered at three institutions, says the Associated Press. “There are many education programs for incarcerated parents,” said director Tammy Gillespie. “But not a whole lot that work with the entire family.” More than 1.7 million children in this country have a parent in prison, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. More than half the estimated 1.5 million inmates in U.S. prisons are themselves parents.
From a loss of child custody to emotional damage and financial hardship, fractured families face challenges even after the missing parent is released, Gillespie said. The inmate education program is designed to strengthen family bonds while also teaching the parenting skills necessary to survive in the outside world. She added: “They get to practice their parenting skills in a safe environment and they get a chance to show their family and their children that they’re trying to do better.”