Mental Health Promotion
- Mental Health Home
- Mental Well-being and Resilience Learning Community
- MN Thrives
- Black Youth Mental Health
- Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents
- Supporting Mental Well-being During COVID-19
- Community Tools
- Related Links
Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents
Parental incarceration in Minnesota and US
An estimated 17% of youth in Minnesota have an incarcerated or previously incarcerated parent, making parental incarceration one of the most frequently reported Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) for this population (MN Student Survey, 2018).
- Among the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., nearly one-third of them are incarcerated in local county jails. In addition, over 10.6 million people are admitted to a county jail each year, including individuals who are awaiting trial.
- In Minnesota, 22% of rural and 20% of township youth experienced Parental Incarceration and 16% of city and 14% of suburban youth according to 2019 MSS data.
- An estimated two-thirds of adults in Minnesota jail are parents with minor children, most lived with one of their minor children before their arrest, and a majority are interested in participating in parenting education.
- Jails can support families impacted by the legal system through policies, programs, and resources offered in the jail, and by connecting them to a range of community-based services to meet their needs.
Minnesota Model Jail Practices Learning Communities
The Model Jail Practices Learning Community is designed to promote and expand services in local jails and communities to support incarcerated people and their minor children. This work is guided by the National Institute of Corrections.
The MN Department of Health and the University of Minnesota partner to facilitate this multidisciplinary Learning Community that engages jail facilities and community partners at the state and local levels to help implement policy, systems, and environmental changes that benefit children of incarcerated parents and their families. Quarterly meeting with local jails and partners to learn best practices and share resources.
Five focus areas to improve the jail environment
The MN Model Jail Practices Learning Community builds capacity with local jail facilities and partners by sharing lessons learned and expanding the impact and reach across the state.
There are five pillars of activity that guide the Learning Community efforts:
- Providing evidence-based parenting education classes.
- Building community coalitions and partnerships.
- Providing staff and partner training.
- Leveraging state agency partnerships.
- Implementing other model jail practices such as improving visiting environment and intake practices.
Current jail learning community partners
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is expanding the Minnesota Model Jail Learning Community to jails and community partners in more than 12 counties across Minnesota.
The overall goals of the Minnesota Model Jail Practices Learning community are to:
- Establish a statewide network of jails to enhance and scale model jail practices that strengthen families until these practices become standard statewide.
- For children and families to increase the quantity and quality of parent-child interactions during and after incarceration.
- Improve the social, emotional, and mental wellbeing of children and youth with an incarcerated parent.
Initial jail learning community participating counties (2020-2023)
The first partner jail sites, range in size and geographic location, including Carlton County Jail, Olmsted County Jail, Ramsey County Correctional Facility, Renville County Jail, Stearns County Jail, and Sherburne County Jail.
These efforts are currently supported by a three-year grant from the Department of Justice, OJJDP Second Chance Act (October 2020-2023). Both MDH and Sherburne County currently have Second Chance Act grants that are supporting these efforts.
Partial funding for this effort was provided by the Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health at the University of Minnesota. The Center is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Carlton County Jail (CCJ)
Carlton County Jail (CCJ) has a 48-bed capacity for pre- and post-adjudicated men (73%) and women (27%). In 2022, CCJ had 1,133 new admissions, including 158 who identified as parents of a minor child (16% of females and 17% of males).
- Current innovation: CCJ made improvements to the visiting area, adding child friendly decorations, toys and art supplies, including matching set of children's books (one book on each side) to allow parents to read to their children. CCJ also implemented a Family Friendly Visiting Program (FFVP) that includes non-contact visits with all children (biological, foster, step), extended visits when feasible, a follow-up parenting education assignment after each visit and a post-visit evaluation about the impact on the parent-child relationship. After four FFVP visits, the incarcerated parent receives a recordable book to give to each child and a copy of Parenting from Prison: A Hands-On Guide for Incarcerated Parents. Parents successfully participating in the FFVP may be eligible for a staff-supervised contact visit with their children. CCJ has a number of active community partners that support this work, including the Lions Club and the Family Service Collaborative.
- Unique priorities: CCJ will expand in-person and contact visits after completion of a new jail building with designated space for family visiting. They will continue to engage with the Fond du Lac Tribe, building on recent partnerships with several tribal members who were on the jail redesign planning team and other steps to reflect culture, such as permitting smudging in the jails. Carlton will offer PIO at the local treatment facility and will add COS to their parent education work. CCJ is adding a restorative justice practice and co-parenting education component.
- Contact: Carlton County, Stephanie.Upton@co.carlton.mn.us
Olmsted County Jail (OCJ)
Olmsted County Jail (OCJ), has a 202-bed capacity for pre and post-adjudicated men (76%) and women (24%). In 2022, OCJ had 3,659 new admissions, including 26% who identified as parents of a minor child (29% of females and 26% of males). Unique Priorities: OCJ will use their recently established cross-sector team to expand community-based youth services, particularly school-based programs, and FHV. OCJ will also promote PIO, with four trained staff.
Ramsey County Correctional Facility (RCCF)
Ramsey County Correctional Facility (RCCF), located in Maplewood, MN, has a 556-bed capacity for post-adjudicated men (48%) and pre- and post-adjudicated women (52%). In 2019, RCCF served 4,076 people, including 3,785 new admissions. RCCF houses all post-adjudicated people in Ramsey County and pre- and post-adjudicated females from Dakota County. The Survey of Parents in MN Jails estimated that 72% of adults in RCCF were parents of a minor child, including 79% of the females and 71% of the males.
- Current innovation: Recently RCCF solidified a five-year contract, with the MN Prison Doula Project (MnPDP). MnPDP offers a doula (a non-medical birth support person) to every pregnant female for pre- and postnatal support. Women participating in MnPDP are eligible for face-to-face visits with their children, parenting classes, and 1:1 parenting support. In 2019 RCCF began offering the same services to fathers.
- Contact: Ramsey County, Gail.Moerke@co.ramsey.mn.us
Renville County Jail (RCJ)
Renville County Jail (RCJ), has a 72-bed capacity for pre (52%) and post (48%) adjudicated men (74%) and women (26%). In 2022, RCJ had 750 new admissions, including 28% who identified as parents of minor children (26% of females, 29% of males). RCJ has a federal contract to house individuals from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the MN Correctional Facility-Shakopee, the state’s only prison for women.
- Current innovation: RCJ has a strong philosophy about supporting and building relationships with individuals in their jail. According to MNDOC records, RCJ has more programming and a greater range of opportunities than most MN facilities, including the 67% of MN jails larger than RCJ. In 2015, RCJ won the President’s Award from the MN Corrections Association for the innovative approach in which the jail is run. For example, RCJ includes questions about ACEs at intake in order to provide tailored support to incarcerated people. Supervised contact visits between incarcerated parents and children are currently available. Parents sentenced for a non-violent crime are offered a furlough for childbirth. RCJ offers parenting classes using the Inside-Out Dad curriculum (distinct from Parenting Inside Out) and is one of a few jails with an in-house licensed chemical dependency treatment program. RCJ has partnerships with a range of organizations from faith communities to formal service providers, including the Family Services Collaborative to support limited navigator time to provide housing and employment resources.
- Unique priorities: RCJ will focus on strengthening partnerships, especially with probation, restorative justice, social services, and schools to assist with re-entry. They will expand the annual ACE and Trauma Informed Care Training and improve the quality of contact visits with more age-appropriate family activities.
- Contact: Renville County, CourtneyP@renvillecountymn.com
Stearns County Jail (SCJ)
Stearns County Jail (SCJ), has a 151-bed capacity for pre and post adjusted men (75%) and women (25%). In 2022 SCJ had 4,066 admissions (down from 6,789 in 2019), including 57% who identified as parents of minor children (78% of females, 51% of males).
- Current innovation: SCJ has a strong history of community partnerships. An active Stearns County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee includes every county department and meets monthly. A ten-year partnership with early childhood education has provided adapted parenting education programming and supports for incarcerated parents. In recent years SCJ contracted with CentraCare hospital and clinics to establish a clinic in the jail staffed by providers who provide exceptional continuity of care. This helps individuals transition into the community and continue to receive clinical services, including essential mental health services. SCJ also made efforts to make family contact accessible by including mobile platforms (tablets, smart phones) in their video visitation contract, which is especially important for families in rural parts of the county.
- Unique priorities: SCJ will focus on aligning PIO and COS for parent education in the jail and community, coordinating supports with the new social worker in the jail to improve family focused re-entry. Strengthen awareness of ACEs with incarcerated parents and jail staff to implement trauma informed care.
- Contact: Stearns County, Patricia.Karnes@co.stearns.mn.us
Resources for parents and families
Programs and supports
- Sesame Street in Communities - Coping with Incarceration
- Minnesota Prison Doula Project
- Resilience Beyond Incarceration
- 2022 Caregiver Guide (PDF), Virginia Department of Corrections
- The Literacy Link - Resources for parents/caregivers
- Support Children with Parents affected by the Criminal Legal System: Minnesota Parenting Inside Out (PDF)
- Project Avary
- Children of Incarcerated Parents: Tools, Guides, & Resources
- Connect to Services for Minnesota families through Minnesota Department of Health:
- ScholarCHIPS provides college scholarships and a support network for children of incarcerated parents, inspiring them to complete their college education.
- Ava’s Grace Scholarship Foundation award scholarships to children with parents incarcerated in the federal prison system.
- The Children Impacted by Crime Scholarship benefits the children of inmates and children victimized by crime.
- Give Something Back is a mentoring and college scholarship organization that serves students who have faced economic hardship and other adversity, including the incarceration of a parent or placement in the foster care system. www.giveback.ngo.
Children of Incarcerated Parents: Tools, Guides, & Resources.
Minnesota youth with an incarcerated parent have increased risk of poor mental health and illness, substance abuse, and poor academic outcomes.
- Mental Health Outcomes of Youth with an Incarcerated Parent in Minnesota (PDF)
- Chemical Use Among Youth with Incarcerated Parents in Minnesota (PDF)
- Academic Outcomes Among Youth with Incarcerated Parents in Minnesota (PDF)
- Health and Health Care Utilization Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness and Parental Incarceration in Minnesota (PDF)
- Parental Incarceration Among Youth in Minnesota
- Parental Incarceration and Child Development: Considerations for Physicians (PDF)
- The Cross-Center Collaboration on the Health of Justice-Involved Women and Children Research
- Strengthening Families Affected by Incarceration
Resources for jails
Two MNLET courses for county jail staff in Minnesota
In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association has created two new courses called Incarcerated Parents and Their Children. This training is a two-part series. The goal of this training is for jail staff and administrators to have a better understanding of how parental incarceration impacts children. Courses are available for all Minnesota county jail staff on Minnesota Leadership Education & Training (MNLET).
- Part 1 overview: How Trauma Disrupts Child Development
This training is focused on the basics of child development and how adversity and trauma can disrupt optimal child development.
- Part 2 overview: Developmental Considerations for Jail Staff and Jail Administrators
This training highlights considerations and action steps that jails can take to welcome children and youth in the facility to visit their parent.
These eLearning courses are available at no charge for all Minnesota county jail staff on Minnesota Leadership Education & Training (MNLET) and were made possible by a grant through the Minnesota Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Each course is approximately 30 minutes. A certificate is available after participating in the course and successfully completing the quiz.
Dr. Rebecca Shlafer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota is the instructor. Over the last decade, she has worked with numerous jails and prisons throughout the state of Minnesota to implement model policies and practices to strengthen families affected by incarceration. She was selected as a subject matter expert by the National Institute of Corrections and has served on numerous state and national committees focused on supporting incarcerated parents and their families.
Parenting Inside Out (PIO)
Addressing the unique situation and issues of system involved parents.
Parenting Inside Out (PIO) is an evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral parent management skills training program created for incarcerated parents through a six-year collaboration of scientists, policy makers, practitioners, and instructional designers. Both the information in the program and the way that information is presented were informed by knowledge derived from research and practice.
- MN Parenting Inside Out Implementation Summary, 2021 (PDF)
- In Minnesota, 44 jail staff and community partners have been trained in the PIO curriculum to date.
Picture courtesy of Stearns County Jail.
Pathfinders of Oregon (PIO) offers ongoing training opportunities to become a PIO facilitator throughout the year. Typically, the training is one full day per month for three months. To learn more about PIO visit Welcome to Parenting Inside Out | Parenting Inside Out or contact Pathfinders of Oregon to find out about facilitator training opportunities and costs by emailing: email@example.com.
Tools for action
Safe and Secure, Family-friendly Visiting in Jails and Prisons: A Toolkit for Enhancing Child Visitation Experiences
- Safe and Secure, Family-friendly Visiting in Jails and Prisons: A Toolkit for Enhancing Child Visitation Experiences (PDF)
This tool was developed by the University of Minnesota in partnership with university extension educators, practitioners, and corrections professionals. This tool is not intended to be prescriptive; instead it should be used to guide conversation with corrections administrators and key stakeholders about opportunities to improve the visiting experience, and reduce stress and confusion for children and families affected by incarceration.
Strengthening partnerships with child protection webinar
- Strengthening Child Protection & County Jails Partnerships to Support Kids of Incarcerated Parents - YouTube
This presentation provides an overview of the Child Protection/Child Welfare System, and discusses the intersections of the Child Protection/Child Welfare System and the criminal justice systems. It was co-sponsored by the Center for Leadership Education in Maternal & Child Public Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health
- CE credits are available upon request and with the completion of the evaluation form. CE Provider Approval is valid through 1/26/2024.
- Feedback is critical to this work, please fill out the survey after watching the video to better inform this work in the future.
- Bridging the Gap Resources (PDF)
- Reading Resources (PDF)
Intake questionnaire for jails
- Intake Questionnaire for Jails: Parent Screening (PDF)
This tool was developed in partnership with the University of Minnesota, Wilder Foundation, MDH, and all of the MN Model Jail Practices Learning Community partners including: Carlton County Jail, Ramsey County Correctional Facility, Renville County Jail, Olmsted County Jail, Sherburne County Jail, and Stearns County Jail. Jails are using this intake to identify parents and connect them with resources in the jail and community.
Other resources for jails
For more information
Anna Lynn, MPP
Mental Health Promotion Coordinator
Minnesota Department of Health
Rebecca J. Shlafer, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota
Mental Wellbeing Planner
Minnesota Department of Health