Financial Education and Relationship Education in Prisons and Inmate Reentry Programs

Who: Ronald Brewer, Director of Education, People of Principle, based in Midland, TX.

What: Marriages are subject to a variety of stresses. Few are greater than having one spouse incarcerated. It is in this prison environment that People of Principle works to strengthen marriages. Operating under a federal grant for Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood from the Administration for Children and Families, People of Principle provides relationship skills training for inmates through its Fathers Are Forever (FAF) Project. The project covers 13 prisons in Texas and New Mexico, along with 36 town parole boards. FAF teaches parenting skills, promotes two-parent families, and seeks to eliminate family violence.

Who: The ACF grant covers working with married or unmarried incarcerated men who have children. Inmates attend the relationship classes with a wife or partner. Brewer notes that many of the inmates have very limited educations; the program assumes a 4th-grade reading level.

How:

  • Brewer says that the People of Principle reentry program is based on doing “power seminars” where a year of relationship education is typically done in 8-12 hours over two days.
  • The healthy marriage program is built around the Within Our Reach curriculum, designed by PREP, Inc. and based on the Speaker-Listener Technique.
  • Classes are generally taught to groups of 6-12 couples.
  • The relationship classes include anger management, preventing family violence, using  negotiated agreements to govern family life, skills-based parenting, and positive parent practices.
  • Additional marriage and fatherhood modules include one on Transactional Analysis, one using Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages and two that Brewer developed called Words of the Heart and The Institutionalized Mind. The reentry program also includes a Money Habitudes module for personal finance.
  • “We felt like one of the weaknesses of our program was the lack of financial counseling,” says Brewer. Using the hands-on Money Habitudes program as a short lesson helps inmates understand their spending and saving patterns but also helps them better understand and interact with a spouse or partner when it comes to money.
  • Traditionally the number one cause of arguments for couples, money is an especially important topic for prisoner reentry into society. The Money Habitudes-based financial module has proven successful because it is simple, understandable, fun and non-threatening.
  • Although the Money Habitudes cards are written at a basic reading level, facilitators may still read the lifestyle statements to participants with low literacy levels. The brief card format is easier and more engaging to use than a worksheet or book.
  • Recognizing that they have very little time to work with prisoners, People of Principle sees the FAF program as a way to open dialogue and spur participants to seek out more information and understanding on their own for all topics – which they do, says Brewer.

Why and Outcomes:

  • The reentry program’s goal has two interdependent parts: to reduce recidivism rates and to preserve and strengthen inmates’ relationships.
  • Brewer says they look at four elements that will keep a marriage together: education, faith, family, and having a job. FAF addresses these issues but does not do job placement; it does, however, address the economic component of stable marriages by including financial education.
  • Because so much of the FAF program deals with understanding one’s partner, Money Habitudes is a natural fit. Used more in the context of relationships and conflict resolution (versus traditional financial literacy), it helps individuals better understand themselves when it comes to how and why they spend and save – and what their attitudes and values are around money. But it also helps them better understand and respect how their partner sees money, thereby promoting healthier discussions. Brewer recalls that participants would say, “This is exactly the problem we were having. It’s crazy that we have to go to prison to learn how to deal with it!”
  • “What’s great about Money Habitudes is the tactile manipulation. That’s very important with people who are incarcerated. We try to use as little of the lecturer-fill-in-the-blank stuff as we can. We have learned that, especially in the prison population, participatory education is far superior to lecture style.”
  •  “We had nothing but positive results. In fact, we never had a complaint and inmates are notorious for complaining when they don’t like something. Even the guards would eat up the Money Habitudes exercise. They’d ask question after question whenever we had a break so it was clear they were interested even though they weren’t actually participating!” says Brewer.
  • After working with 300 couples, the program had only seen six divorces.