Research Overview & Projects

Lab for Family Wellbeing & Justice Mission:

The Lab for Family Wellbeing and Justice uses rigorous research, evidence-based practice strategies, and innovative policy development to build knowledge and solutions for families impacted by incarceration and justice system involvement. We are led by the ethical values of social justice and a belief in the dignity and worth of each person. We strive to amplify the voices of those with lived experience of incarceration and reentry to drive effective solutions. By taking a strong focus on equity and justice, we work towards combating the adverse consequences of justice involvement for individuals, families, and communities thereby promoting strength, resilience, opportunity, and success.

Ongoing Lab Projects 

Building Family Connections at Dane County Jail

Dane County Jail was selected by the National Institute of Corrections to implement practices that strengthen family support and connections between incarcerated parents and children. Drawing from best practices that show a reduced risk for recidivism and fewer challenges upon reentry when strong family ties exist, our team provided implementation support to introduce parent-focused services and is now conducting evaluation research on parenting classes and child-friendly visits between incarcerated parents and their children.

Read more

Making Reading Memories

The purpose of this project is to support incarcerated parents’ engagement with their children through video recorded reading of books. The goal is to increase literacy opportunities for children and maintain parent-child relationships during incarceration. In collaboration with the UW-Madison Division of Extension, our team is conducting an evaluation study with parents in jail and caregivers at home to learn about their perceptions of the program, children’s experience and behavior after watching the videos, and recommendations for program changes. The intent is to use the findings to inform longer-term implementation and replication of the program in Wisconsin jails.

Read more

Washington Department of Corrections: Parenting Sentencing Alternative Program Evaluation

This project will expand services offered within the Washington State Department of Corrections Parenting Sentencing Alternative (PSA) programs, which are designed to reunify or keep individuals with their children and family. The goal of the program is to break intergenerational incarceration, mentor incarcerated individuals in parenting skills, and provide access to programs such as mental health and substance use.

Read more

Parenting Connections for Incarcerated Mothers & Fathers: Strategies to Support Program Implementation and Measure Success

The purpose of this project is to support the successful implementation of parenting education services in Wisconsin prisons with the aim of reducing the negative impact of incarceration on mothers, fathers, and their children. With support from the 4W Initiative and the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, our team is collaborating with the WI Department of Corrections to implement Parenting Inside Out in four prisons with mothers and fathers and to connect caregivers to resources in the community that promote child health and wellbeing. We are also conducting evaluation work to learn more about how the program is working and parents' experiences.

Read more

LEO: Fathers and Families Support Center Reentry Program Study

Started by  researchers at the University of Notre Dame, the Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) aims to end cycles of poverty by helping service providers apply rigorous scientific evaluation methods to better understand and share effective poverty-reducing interventions. In this LEO randomized controlled trial focused on Missouri reentry services after prison, our goal is to understand the effectiveness of The Fathers and Families Support Center's (FFSC) program in reducing recidivism rates of formerly incarcerated fathers and promoting economic wellbeing through employment and earnings. Additionally, the goal of this work is to measure the FFSC program's effects on family dynamics and child support payments.

Read more

Grand Challenges for Social Work

Initiated by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, the Grand Challenges for Social Work is a groundbreaking initiative to champion social progress powered by science. It’s a call to action for social workers to tackle our nation’s toughest social problems. Our team is helping to lead one of the 13 Grand Challenges—Promote Smart Decarceration, an effort to reduce the incarcerated population, to redress racial, social, and behavioral health disparities, and maximize public safety and community well-being.

Read more

Recently Completed Lab Projects

Flattening the COVID-19 Curve in Jails, Prisons, and Reentry

The purpose of this study is to document the challenges that people incarcerated in prisons and jails, as well as in reentry, experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of the project is to learn more about how the virus has affected people’s day-to-day experiences including exposure, physical symptoms, concerns about health, and the impact COVID-19 has had on loved ones and changes to daily life. The intent is to use the research to inform local, state, national, and global criminal justice response efforts to combat the virus.

Read more

Improving Outcomes for Incarcerated Parents and Their Children Through Enhanced Jail Visits

This feasibility study has developed an innovative multidisciplinary approach to bring about transformative change in the lives of incarcerated mothers and fathers, at-home caregivers, and children through enhanced visits in jail settings. This multi-level intervention strategy improves family visits between children and their incarcerated parent by fostering positive family interactions through video chat and coaching during jail and home visits.

Read more

Pathways for Parents After Incarceration

A feasibility study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development setting out to design, implement, and evaluate a family-focused community-based reentry service for fathers recently released from jail and prison. This study seeks to improve parent and child outcomes through father engagement, high-quality parenting and relationship skills, and extended family involvement.

Read more