How to deal with a loved one going to jail

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Advice and support for those with a relative in prison

Coping with a friend or relative in prison

Grief and loss

Many describe the imprisonment of a family member like grief and loss. Even though they can see the person the loss of the person in their lives is real.

A lack of social support around the family can make it hard to express sadness openly. This can sometimes result if feelings are being hidden from others and trying to soldier on. Short term this may work however people do better if they can talk through how they feel.

Talking with someone outside of your family and friends network can sometimes be easier.

How families and friends feel

Families and friends of prisoners may experience a range of feelings and emotions.

Discrimination, fuelled by a fear of crime, and negative beliefs may be experienced by families of prisoners. Families may find even relatives are judgemental and fearful. Attention from the media along with the community can often put the pressure on family.

There may be a sense of relief felt if the person goes to prison. Life may become calmer and more predictable if a person goes to prison.

There could also be a feeling of assuming that others around the community are judging them. Fear of rejection can lead people to isolate themselves from others.

Looking after yourself

If a family member is in prison it may be hard to focus on your own needs.

It’s important to look after your health and wellbeing. Sometimes signs of stress can be overlooked. Everyone can feel stress differently so it’s important to develop an approach to managing it.

The self-care suggestions that follow are a guide. If you can’t find strategies that work for you, or you find you’re relying on drugs or alcohol or other unhealthy behaviours to cope, you may find it helpful to talk with your doctor, or look for assistance from a psychologist, social worker or counsellor.

Common signs of stress:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • undereating or overeating
  • difficulty communicating
  • easily irritated, and
  • muscle tension and headaches.

Ways to ease stress:

  • try to do regular exercise
  • get enough sleep
  • talk with someone about your feelings
  • eat healthy food three times a day
  • be gentle and patient with yourself
  • take time for yourself, and
  • do something nice for your body i.e. take a bubble bath or get a massage.

Living as a partner of a prisoner

Partners of those in prison may have some adjustments to make within their daily lives. The financial situation, housing and social networks may be impacted by having a partner in prison.

You’ll also have to adjust to a relationship with your partner through visits, phone calls and letters, instead of being with them day to day.

As prisoners are cut off from the outside world, partners may experience pressure from the prisoner to visit frequently.

Although you may want to visit every week it may not be possible due to cost and travelling times. It’s important that you arrange a realistic visiting plan together.

As a partner of a prisoner it’s important that you consider the level of financial support you are able to provide to the prisoner.

Relationships can become strained when a prisoner remains dependent on their partner throughout their sentence and expects their partner to focus considerable attention on them. The prisoner’s situation may not change much during that time.

You may have to take on new roles and responsibilities as you cope in the community on your own.

Communication is the most important ingredient for maintaining a close relationship with your partner in prison. It’s important to share what’s going on with your partner, including both the positive and the negative events. Good communication involves recognising what your partner may be experiencing and how this may impact on their communication with you.*

Parents of prisoners

Parents may often experience a range of emotion if their son or daughter is in prison.

Common reactions to imprisonment might include:

  • anger
  • worry
  • shame
  • isolation and alienation
  • relief
  • self blame, and
  • uncertainty.

There are no ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’ when it comes to providing support to a son or daughter in prison.

However it is important to think about your own needs and limitations, and those of others in the family. Imprisonments may lead to differing and conflicting views within the family. *

* information courtesy of NSW Families Handbook, a joint initiative of Corrective Services NSW and the Community Restorative Centre

It’s never easy to see a loved one go to jail. It can bring up lots of conflicting feelings. It can make your life harder. Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself mentally healthy while your loved one is away.

Allow yourself to feel

You may be focused on your loved one and what you can do to help them get through this. But it’s important to recognize your own feelings too. You’re probably going to experience some degree of anger about:

  • how your loved one’s actions have affected you by upsetting your day-to-day life;
  • how they didn’t listen to advice from you or others, and how they might not have ended up in this situation if they had;
  • how their incarceration will affect their future with you, or the family in general; and/or
  • the nature of their crime, especially if it victimized someone.

It’s also common to feel a sense of loss or general sadness. You might feel sympathy for your loved one—after all, you still care about them. Being in jail sucks. If they’re facing a long sentence, you might be grieving the loss of the relationship you once had, and thinking about how you’ll never get those days back.

Take care of yourself

In addition to just acknowledging your feelings, be sure to take care of yourself. Self-care is often the first thing to go out the window when you’re worried about someone else—but those are the times when it’s most important. Going through something stressful like this can be hard on your own mental health. And when you neglect your own mental health, it becomes even harder to provide emotional support for others.

Take time to do relaxing activities just for yourself. Spend time with loved ones who care about you. Write in a journal about your feelings, or make a list of things you’re grateful for.

Other people’s reactions

Be prepared to hear people talking about your loved one. It may be nosy neighbors or gossipy family members. Maybe you’ve seen coverage of the crime in the news. It’s not your fault your loved one is in jail—but you may still feel ashamed and isolated because of the way other people talk.

You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Before you react to gossip, think about whether it’s worth your energy. If it’s someone close to you, it might make sense to tell them how you feel and ask them to stop. But if it’s a stranger and you don’t have much control over the situation, it might be better to try and brush it off. Picking your battles is good self-care!

On the other hand, there may be people who are aware of the situation and want to know how they can help. Don’t be afraid to take them up on the offer. Some people may have practical advice, like how to find a good lawyer or how to make sure everything gets done around the house with one less pair of hands. Even if someone doesn’t really know what they can do to help, just having someone to talk to can make a big difference.

Remember: your loved-one is only human.

Everybody makes mistakes—some bigger than others. Making mistakes is part of being human. Try to remember that your loved one is still a human being, no matter how badly they’ve messed up and who they’ve hurt. If they are living with a mental illness, remember that this can affect their ability to make good decisions.

You don’t have to forgive your loved one right away. Remember, the first step is to allow yourself to simply feel your feelings. But if you can eventually get to a point of forgiveness, if can lift a big weight from your soul. What’s done is done and can’t be changed. You can only move forward.

They will have to serve their sentence. But you can help them through the process through phone calls and visits—when you’re ready.

A woman details how seven years of her life became dominated by her partner's time in the penitentiary.

I’d been stranded on the side of the mountain highway for more than two hours before anyone stopped to help me. The snow was falling heavily, I was soaked to the bone and my numb hands were unable to secure the chains on my tires.

I was terrified of driving through the twists and turns of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the snow. I hated taking time off work, paying for a motel and the five-hour drive in my 12-year-old car with a broken heater.

But it was the only way I could see my loved one since his arrest.

For seven years I lived my life this way, as a woman with an incarcerated mate: a woman who sacrificed my time, money, relationships and emotional well-being to support someone in jail. And the whole time I felt invisible.

That’s always the first word that comes to mind when I reflect on my experience. The stigma of loving a person in prison erases us from society. Gender roles and expectations obscure our emotional labor. Judgment from our close friends and family cloud our pain.

There Are Emotional and Financial Costs of Supporting an Incarcerated Loved One

One in four women in the United States has an incarcerated loved one. Most of us suffer in silence. We all hold the weight of stigma and isolation that comes with having a family member or partner in prison, but the resources to support us are virtually nonexistent. Rather, women with incarcerated loved ones are the support systems, for their loved ones and themselves.

When you’re a woman with someone you love in prison, you face your own kind of imprisonment. Although we live our lives in the free world, we face isolation, shame and economic marginalization the same way as the people we love in prison. We pay for phone calls, visits, commissary and legal fees, often finding ourselves shackled by debt.

For the first year of his incarceration, I paid more for collect phone calls each month than I did for rent. Each weekend visit cost me between $250 and $500. I managed to stay out of debt, for which I’m fortunate, but in the process I depleted my savings and barely kept my head above water.

Over the span of seven years, having a loved one in prison cost me around $45,000.

The costs to our emotional well-being are just as steep. According to a survey conducted by Essie Justice Group, 86 percent of women with incarcerated loved ones face “significant or extreme” strain on their mental health. That number increases to 94 percent when the incarcerated person is a romantic partner.

Like so many women in this situation, I suffered from depression and anxiety. Many days I woke up without the strength or motivation to get out of bed. Often I felt hopeless, like I wanted to end my life. Preparing for every weekend visit—the thought of facing the long drives and humiliation from correctional officers—made me tense and angry. The isolation and loneliness of missing my loved one caused deep sadness, and even after he was released I still carried PTSD from the experience.

How to deal with a loved one going to jail

Incarceration doesn’t only affect the incarcerated individual. Anyone who is related to someone who is imprisoned can be financially and emotionally affected. Even though the loved one is paying his or her “debt to society,” the prisoner’s family may be ignored, socially ostracized or even blamed for their relative’s crimes. The stress alone of having a loved one incarcerated is enough reason to offer consolation to someone whose family member is in jail.

Step 1

Make regular contact with the person. According to the New York State Department of Corrections Family Guide, incarceration can lead to changes in the behaviors of the person in jail as well as their relatives. Isolation and depression due to decreased contact with previous social supports can occur for the relatives of the incarcerated person, so make regular calls, or send texts or emails to the relative. Keep the conversation light but always ask them how they are feeling. While you may not have the time or resources to be with them in person, you can be an important source of emotional support.

Step 2

Allow the relative of a person in jail to direct the topic of conversation. When you make the effort, whether it be in person or via phone or email, it can be a challenge to determine the appropriate topic of discussion. Allowing them to identify what they want or need to discuss can take the onus off of you. Even if you want to talk about the incarcerated relative or something related to the alleged crime, it may be too difficult for the relative to discuss. This can change with time and you may very well end up discussing difficult subjects at a later time.

Step 3

Offer to help in areas wherever possible. Your friend or loved one has experienced a loss that can have as much impact as a death — one that can be especially challenging where young children or elderly parents are involved. Add a part- or full-time job on top and you have the makings of a life that can stressful to the point of debilitation. Before your friend succumbs to the added stress, offer to help in ways that don’t also stress you — anything from occasional babysitting to grocery shopping but remember to take your own responsibilities into consideration.

Step 4

Console your friend just by listening and offering a hug. The power behind a good listening ear and a gentle hug cannot be overestimated. In fact, NIH News in Health explains that hugs have been found to encourage the body’s release of hormones like oxytocin, which make you feel good. Listening without judgment can also be therapeutic. Skills of active listening such as clarifying and being nonjudgmental facilitate a kind of therapy that you can administer in the comfort of home.

Dealing with the criminal justice system in addition to the mental health system can be challenging. We’ve created a step-by-step guide to help families cope with navigating the criminal justice system in Alameda County when a family member who experiences mental health challenges is arrested.

If your family member calls to say they have been arrested, there are couple of things you can do.

  • First, focus on keeping your family member calm by offering your help and support.
  • Second, if your relative is being held in a city jail, remind them of their right to have an attorney present if being questioned by police or detectives.
  • Third, if your relative is at the county jail (Santa Rita or Glen Dyer Detention Facility), they will be screened upon arrival for mental illness and general health concerns. Tell your family member to be direct and honest to benefit as much as possible from this mental health screening process. Assure them that it is OK to discuss their physical and mental health conditions, diagnoses, medications, etc., with the staff conducting the screening, which includes medical nursing staff and/or jail mental health service staff (CJMH). It is important that your family member feels safe to speak openly with the nurses and mental health screeners.

To find out if your relative is in jail, you can use the Inmate Locator link by going to https://www.acgov.org/sheriff_app/ . You may also want to contact the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office website for further information about the jail. It can also be located by going to http://www.acgov.org/government/departments.htm . The Sheriff’s Department can provide you with information about visiting hours.

Once you locate your loved one in jail:

  • Call the jail mental health (CJMH) intake unit (ITR) at 925-551-6905.
  • Inform the staff or leave a message that your family member has a mental illness, describe the diagnosis, and share any other concerns.
  • Ask staff about your relative’s status and estimated length of stay at this facility.
  • Ask if they are expected to be released directly from the jail. If they are going to be released directly from the jail ask for the time and place, so you can be there to pick them up.
  • If your relative is really struggling, ask if the ITR staff can arrange to have them taken to a psychiatric hospital for a “5150” involuntary three-day hold for treatment and evaluation.
  • Ask about your family member’s location (housing unit and pod number) and their booking number.
  • When visiting the jail always bring a few quarters for a locker to store your personal belongings while you visit your family member. Photo ID is also required.
  • The medical information you provide, will help assist mental health staff to select the best treatment for your relative while they are in custody. While continuity of care is important, jail mental health staff must conduct its own assessment of your relative’s condition and may not necessarily prescribe the same medications. Some psychiatric medications cannot be used in jail because of historic misuse.
  • The jail mental health staff is prohibited by law from giving anyone information about a client’s status unless they have the client’s written consent, but the staff can receive information from relatives or friends. On the cover page of this form, share whether your relative has provided you with a written confidentiality waiver. If your relative has not provided you with a written confidentiality waiver, ask that they sign one while in jail.
  • Once your relative has been booked, fax the document described in Step Three to the appropriate numbers below. Faxes can be sent 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mental Health Services (CJMH) fax numbers:

ITR (CJMH intake/booking) 925-803-8008

CJMH mental health clinic 925-551-672

  • If your relative is not going to be released right away, you can contact the CJMH Court Advocacy Project (CAP) for assistance with the court process in selected courtrooms. The CAP staff can assist you with information, court dates, locations, etc.
  • CAP staff may assist the defense attorney, prosecutor, and the judge in implementing an alternative sentence rather than incarceration in a jail or prison. This program is available free of charge. Tel: (510) 627-4992 Fax: (510) 627-4995

If you have any difficulty with this process, you can contact the following resources that are specifically available to assist families who have relatives with mental health challenges.

  • The Mental Health Association Family Advocate program at 510-835-5010
  • The Behavioral Health Care Services Family Relations Manager at 510-567-8037
  • The Family Education and Resource Center at 888-896-FERC (3372). www.ferc.org

Bail: When considering posting bail for your family member, you should ask yourself the following questions. Will your family member be able to comply with the terms of the bail and appear in court when required? If your loved one wasn’t in jail, would they be wandering the streets? No one wants a loved one to remain incarcerated for any length of time. It is an unpleasant experience for them as well as the family. If jail is the safest place for your loved one, that should be a deciding factor in whether you post bail or not.

Working with an attorney : If your relative will be represented in court by a public defender, call the Public Defender’s office at the court where the case is being heard and ask for the name and phone number of the attorney who will be handling the case. If you do not reach the attorney, be sure to leave a message requesting a return call with your name, phone number, your family member’s name and, if possible, the case number (PFN) and court date. Due to the attorney-client confidentiality requirement, there will be information the attorney may not be able to share with you. Inform the attorney of your family member’s condition and any information that may be beneficial to the case. Provide the attorney with an extensive history of your family member in writing and include hospitalization, diagnosis information, medication treatment, and the contact information of those doctors/clinicians and of facilities that have treated your family member in the past. This information will be very useful in pursuing the best outcome for your loved one. Attorneys are extremely busy and many will appreciate written or faxed correspondence.

Public Defenders’ Offices in Alameda County:

This informational guide was adapted from a document written by NAMI volunteers based on their own personal experience to help families navigate the system and edited for Alameda County by the CJMH program. We are not attorneys, and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice. Please assist your family member in obtaining proper legal representation.

This information sheet is designed to help you, or a family member prepare for the possibility of imprisonment.

Planning Ahead

Facing imprisonment can be one of the most frightening and traumatic experiences that defendants and their families can go through. You may have been told to expect a prison sentence or just been advised of the possibility of one. Whichever applies, try to organise the following things in case of imprisonment. It is always better to be prepared for the worst outcome.

Children

The welfare of your children should be your main priority, and it’s important to think about how you might help your child cope at this time. Everyone’s circumstances will be different but in most cases, children will want to know where their parent is and why. Relatives or friends may need to be told what is happening on the day of the court appearance and perhaps be prepared to look after children or pick them up from school. Children may need explanations and support about where a parent is, and reassurance that they are still loved and secure in their family. You may want to prepare your child for you going away, and although it may be difficult to talk to them about the possibility of prison, it could be something that will help them cope.

Accommodation

You will need to contact your housing authority, landlord or mortgage provider to find out what the situation will be with your home. If you are unable to keep your home, you should arrange for your property to be stored somewhere safe and secure.

Unfortunately, there is very little help available for the storage of property, unless paid for privately. It is important therefore to try to make arrangements to store your belongings if at all possible. There is no financial help available towards the costs of commercial storage, so if family members are not able to take care of your property, it may be that you will need to decide what is really essential and give permission to sell or dispose of the rest. Each prison establishment has a property storage facility for small, personal items brought into the prison at the time of remand or conviction.

You may be able to keep your home whilst you are in prison but you should seek further information about this. Housing and Council Tax Benefits can be claimed for up to thirteen weeks, longer if on remand, provided the total absence (including any remand time) is expected to be no longer than this. It is possible to continue a housing benefit claim based on the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) eligibility date (being released on tag) if it falls within the thirteen week period, even if a decision on HDC has not yet been made.

Your partner may be able to claim Council Tax Benefit. You’ll still be counted as a couple as long as you’re only temporarily separated. Speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau, or contact the Shelter Housing Helpline (0808 800 4444).

There are some benefits which prisoners will no longer be entitled to; others are suspended, and a few continue to be payable. Your partner may need to make a claim in their own right if you were the main support.

It’s important to get advice about any benefits as soon as possible, especially if your partner is still living in the family home.

If you have any pets, arrange for someone to care for them or at least to be able to access your home to feed them. If a pet is left at home by an unexpected period of imprisonment then please advise prison staff on your arrival, they in turn can then contact the RSPCA to let them know of the issues surrounding your pet.

Employment

If you are in employment, you will need to decide when and what to tell your employer about your situation. You will be entitled to any outstanding wages and holiday entitlement and this should be arranged.

Finances

If you have financial commitments, you may wish to contact any lenders etc. and explain the situation. If someone is able to deal with this in your absence, arrange for all the documentation to be available to them.

It is also a good idea to leave important papers such as passports, driving licence somewhere safe and let someone know where they are. A list of contact numbers will be useful too.

Standing charges from electricity, gas or telephone bills will mount up unless the services are disconnected. If you are not going to be able to pay the backlog on release, or come to an arrangement with the utility company, it would be advisable to have the services disconnected as soon as possible.

If you are receiving benefits when you go into prison, these will be stopped if you are convicted. It is important that you tell your benefits provider. If you get overpaid benefits because you failed to inform that your circumstances have changed, you will have to pay this back when you come out of prison.

If you were claiming benefits before, it is best if your partner makes a claim as soon as possible after you go into prison. Your partner should contact their local Citizen Advice Bureau to assess their entitlement.

At court

A few days prior to your court date, ensure that you have the correct details and know what time to be there. You will generally meet with your legal representative prior to your court time, so be early to allow for this.

Belongings

It is a good idea to bring some money to court with you. If sentenced, this will be credited to your personal prison account on your arrival at the establishment. You will be entitled to purchase toiletries, tobacco and telephone credit when you arrive at prison, so you should have some cash available for this.

Prisons have different entitlements as to what you will be allowed in the form of clothing. Underwear, a change of clothes, including shoes and pyjamas should be permitted, so you may want to take a small bag with these items to court with you. Any belongings will be given to prison reception staff to sort out what items are permitted. All other belongings will be stored until your release.

You may also wish to take with you any contact numbers, including mobile telephone numbers, and any legal paper work that you may need. You should be allowed these items, but it may vary from prison to prison. No mobile phones are permitted in any prison, therefore it is a good idea to leave your phone, along with bank cards and any car or house keys you have, with a family member before going into the court room. Once your property has been sorted, it is stored in a small storage facility and may require a formal written request to the prison before being released to the family.

Sentence

If you are given a prison sentence, you will be handcuffed and taken to the cell area within the court building. The handcuffs will be removed when you reach this area.

The staff here will take your belongings and put them in a bag to be forwarded to the prison with you. You will be asked to check and sign for the items. You will then be placed in a cell until transport is available to take you to the prison. This may take some time, as the courts tend to wait until all cases have been heard and transport people together. You may receive a visit from your solicitor or the court social worker. No family or friends will be allowed to visit you during this time.

Where will you serve your sentence?

You will start your sentence in a ‘reception’ prison or a local prison. If you were remanded in custody while awaiting sentencing, this may be the same prison.

For further information about what to expect when starting a prison sentence, please refer to What to expect when starting a prison sentence.

Children undergo a stark transition as their parents enter incarceration, which impacts their psychological makeups, day-to-day routines, and general ways of expressing themselves.

You know a parent who’s been arrested. You don’t know for sure what they did, but from what you’ve heard, they’re going to be behind bars for a while. Your mind races when you think of the son or daughter left behind: Who’s going to look after the child? Is there any way you can help?

A lot of uncomfortable questions surface when a parent is incarcerated. Aside from the legal details, attention immediately turns to who will care for the children. What is an overwhelming situation can be made a little less so with a support system for the children who are left behind.

How Does A Parent’s Incarceration Affect Children?

Children undergo a stark transition as their parents enter incarceration, which impacts their psychological makeups, day-to-day routines, and general ways of expressing themselves. As a result, it is vitally important that support is provided to help stabilize their behavioral and emotional development.

Many demographic variables impact the transition experienced by children of incarcerated parents such as: geographical location, age, race, ethnicity, and sex. Beyond these factors, research demonstrates a few common experiences of children with incarcerated parents:

  • Adverse living conditions
  • Strained parent-child relationships
  • Financial hardships
  • Sporadic or scattered opportunities for parent-child contact

Psychologist and author Robert T. Muller, Ph.D. wrote an article for Psychology Today exploring the mental health implications for a child with an incarcerated parent. Children “may have a difficult time socially, often when they approach adolescence.” The article also highlighted the negative emotional and psychological effects of children having a parent in prison, including, but not limited to, sorrow, guilt, and fear:

Many children of incarcerated parents develop feelings of anger and aggression, leading to failed friendships in school. Some may also become depressed and anxious, bringing academic and social challenges.

Others have commented on how the experience of having a parent sent to prison can be traumatizing for children. Youth.gov, a governmental agency that advocates for at-risk children, said that children with incarcerated parents are more likely to experience trauma because of:

  • Uprooted or disjointed family relations
  • Witnessing the reasons for the parents’ arrest
  • Observing violence in immediate community or family unit
  • Contact with substance abuse

Though these experiences can be common, human services professionals can intervene to ensure the mental and behavioral consequences won’t be as life altering.

How to Help a Child Whose Parent is In Jail

Caseworkers can apply a number of different strategies to ease the difficult transition for children with incarcerated parents. The following step-by-step framework can help prepare a child and their new caregiver for the challenges of having an incarcerated parent.

Explain incarceration to a child

This stage is vital for children of all ages. Incarceration can be a difficult concept for younger children to understand, and older children may still have a difficult time grasping the reasons for their parent’s incarceration. Caseworkers can step in to unpack the severity of the parent’s situation depending on the child’s age and maturity level.

Allow the child to vent and express their emotions

It’s important that children feel comfortable expressing themselves after learning their parent is going to be incarcerated. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s report on children living with trauma, one of the best initial steps to take is to open clear lines of communication. Children often face a number of mental health issues both in the immediate wake of a parent’s incarceration and in the subsequent years. Therefore, caseworkers and caregivers need to establish a safe space for these children.

Gather information about their experience

After children feel comfortable expressing their feelings about their parent’s imprisonment, human services professionals should work to catalog information about their lives and their trauma. Youth.gov recommended that human services professionals approach children with incarcerated parents with sensitivity and through a “trauma-informed approach.” This strategy calls on people assisting children with incarcerated parents to:

  • Identify the different points of trauma that the children confronted
  • Locate triggering stimuli for the children to avoid
  • Help the children understand the significance of their own trauma
  • Put into action appropriate intervention strategies

Give the interim caregiver support

Interim caregivers for children of incarcerated parents are often familial relations. While the experience can be beneficial for all parties involved, interim caregivers usually must confront unexpected and unique obstacles. ChildWelfare.gov said interim caregivers report needing help with procuring the child’s medical and dental care, food, and community resources. Caseworkers should provide state- and federally-subsidized support along with other community-specific resources.

Prepare the child to visit their jailed parents

Finally, human services professionals should find out where parents are incarcerated and investigate visitation policies. According to ChildWelfare.gov, “Caseworkers must make all reasonable efforts to reunite children with their incarcerated parents.” These efforts include cultivating a continued relationship between child and incarcerated parent.

Benefits for a Child Whose Parents Are in Jail

Outside of social services, families with children of incarcerated parents should seek out community-based initiatives for more assistance. These initiatives, typically non-profit organizations, can provide aid and additional resources for both children and incarcerated parents. Here are some examples of helpful organizations that have made it their mission to provide support for children with incarcerated parents.

The Sesame Workshop

The creators of Sesame Street decided to help address the growing problem of children who have incarcerated parents by making interactive materials. The videos and activities on the site are designed to bring children and their caregivers closer, which will prove immensely beneficial while both parent and child cope with their separation.

Hour Children

Based in Long Island City, Hour Children is an organization that offers resources to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women to help their families. Hour Children helps women find stability with an effective reentry program that assists them in getting jobs that pay a living wage. While the women work on professional development goals, Hour Children provides a mentoring program for their children.

SKIP, Inc.

With franchises and community groups across the nation, SKIP, Inc. offers support to children with incarcerated parents and the caregivers who are offering them support. Their goal is to raise awareness about the ongoing and pervasive problems that children face “through education, advocacy and research.” The organization also provides summer camps for at-risk youth and hosts food banks, fundraising events, and book drives.

Are you looking for ways to cope with emotional stress while your loved one or friend is incarcerated?

There’s no rule book when it comes to dealing with such a complicated situation, especially emotionally. But like other stressful challenges in life, you can get through this, too.

We’ve put together five tips that we hope will help you and your incarcerated loved one or friend feel more connected:

1. STAY CONNECTED

Depending on the services available at your loved one’s facility, there are several ways for you to communicate to help you stay connected:

  • Talking by Phone – Phone calls are the most popular way inmates connect with their support networks. This can be an effective tool to help you both stay updated on how each of you are doing.
  • Sending Digital Messages – Similar to traditionally mailed letters, the simple act of receiving a message while in prison or jail can make your loved one’s day. (Sending photos, too, can help your loved one or friend feel even more connected to you and the outside world.)
  • Scheduling Visits – Letters and phone calls are great, but in-person and video visits allow you to talk AND see your loved one or friend. These are great ways to connect when distance may feel like an obstacle.

2. KEEP UP WITH CURRENT EVENTS

It can be challenging for your loved one or friend to keep up with current events and the latest news while incarcerated. Of course, you can always share news with them yourself when you communicate in person or via phone, message or video; some inmates, though, also have access to news applications to help them keep up with the outside world, such as the following popular news providers:

  • ESPN
  • CNN
  • Fox News
  • NPR

This premium service is available as a 7-day, 14-day, and 30-day subscription, funded by deposits to an inmate’s Debit Link account.
Visit our facilities page to see what’s available for your inmate.

3. LOOK FOR EDUCATION AND SELF-HELP RESOURCES

Without education, inmates are more likely to engage in criminal activity after their release and may end up returning to prison or jail. This is one of the reasons why ConnectNetwork offers training and educational resources to inmates who have access to tablets and education content at no extra charge. These valuable courses and trainings have the potential to make a life-changing impact, so we encourage you to remind them of this free service.

ConnectNetwork offers over 165,000 pieces of education content, including:

  • Self-Help Courses
  • GED Prep Modules
  • 20,000 Practice Exercises
  • 7,000 Instructional Videos

In addition, we have courses focusing on:

  • Life Skills
  • Adult Basic Education
  • Financial Literacy
  • Employability Skills
  • Substance Abuse
  • Re-entry Support

4. SEEK SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT

Incarceration is difficult – not just for your loved one or friend, but for you as well. Everyone needs support and encouragement from time to time, and ConnectNetwork wants to make sure that you and your loved one or friend have access to the resources you both need.

For loved ones with subscription-based accounts, they can access apps such as these (where available):

  • Education
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Careers
  • Fathering in 15 (from the National Fatherhood Institute)

If you’re looking for some support right now, you might find these inspirational quotes helpful.

5. PREPARE FOR A LOVED ONE’S RE-ENTRY

Re-entering society is an exciting time for your incarcerated loved one and their friends and family, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still need support. Rest assured, there can be steps to help you both prepare for this new life together.

You may also find “3 Ways Employment After Prison Can be Achieved” helpful, as well as “Sharp Dressed Man,” which provides useful tips for male inmates who want to re-join the workforce post-release. In addition, your loved one’s facility may also provide resources to help them prepare for successful re-entry.

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How to deal with a loved one going to jail

I know. What a somber topic! Not everyone goes through the experience–or should I say trauma–of a loved one going to prison. Regardless of whether it is a minor offence or a major one, one thing is certain–it is never easy: for the prisoner as well as those connected to them. Which brings us to the question: how to help a loved one in prison?

As much as we might not like to think about it or even acknowledge that it is possible, sometimes bad things happen. Whether by accident or design, one of those bad things could be a loved one having to go to prison for a crime. It might be just for a few months, or it could be for many years – maybe even life – but no matter how long their sentence is, the shock and the disruption are going to be hard to bear. A family member or friend in prison may deeply affect your life in the long run.

Something you will want to do if a family member or friend goes to prison, no matter what the reason, is to help them as much as possible, keep them encouraged and there are a few ways to do this.

Here are 7 ways to encourage and help a loved one in prison

How to deal with a loved one going to jail

Stay in touch

Even if being in prison is justified, it is just not easy on the person’s mental health. One of the best ways you can help a loved one in prison is to keep in contact with them, as this will give them something to look forward to.

Find out the rules about what you can send, or when you visit, what to wear, say and do when you are there. The staff at the prison monitor every communication and have rules about the language one uses. That said, you can write letters, call on the phone and video chat.

Visiting as often as possible is a great way to do this, but it’s not something that you can do all the time; as much as it might sound selfish (it’s not, of course, but you might feel that it is), you have your own life to lead and must put that first. Also, if the prison is far away from your home, visiting isn’t always going to be possible.

When you are unable to visit, send inmate letters to those in prison instead. It might not be quite the same as visiting in person, but it is still contact with the outside world and will help a loved one in prison stay updated with what is happening.

Send photos of your home as life can be quite dreary within those prison walls. Seeing photos of your daily life will feel like a wonderful outing for them that they will treasure.

Do answer your loved one’s phone calls when they call you. Don’t worry about what to say – just share what’s happening in your life.

Send positive messages

Prison life is hard. It is an emotionally difficult time where the prisoner questions their own value or self-worth. When you communicate with them, remind them of their strength. When you visit or write or call, remind them you care is one of the best ways to help a loved one in prison.

Keep them in your lives

Remember your loved one is not just a prisoner number. If they are cut off from the world, they get embroiled in prison politics and that is not a pleasant thing.

Talk to them about everything that is going on with your life without feeling guilty about it. They live vicariously through you, so it is okay to describe all the good things that are happening with you.

Talk to your loved ones about tough times you are going through as well. It is okay to share your struggles, your health issues and your family problems. Your loved one will most likely be compassionate.

Remember their birthday

Send birthday greetings to show them you remember them with love. Maybe inside prison it is just another day but of course birthdays matter. Surprise them by sending them a bunch of letters.

Keep them engaged

Prison is geared to make the prisoner powerless and inadequate. As far as the system is concerned the prisoner is just an inmate. But they mean far more to you. Keep them updated with world news. Ask for their take on it. Form a book club and read books together.

Show them benefits

In many prisons, there are plenty of activities on offer to keep inmates busy and to prepare them for their release – they might be able to learn a trade or gain some valuable skills that will help them get a job or even start their own business if that’s the route they choose to go down once they get home again.

The problem is that sometimes a sense of hopelessness will set in, and the prisoner may feel there is no point in taking up these activities because they won’t be able to do very well at them. If this is the case, you can offer some advice. Encourage them by pointing out how useful it will be to gain some skills and why it would be worth at least trying. In other words, you can be the one to show them the benefit of these additional qualifications. This helps a loved one in prison get ready for their new life.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Sometimes, it’s easy to focus on the person in prison and not on yourself, but this is not healthy. You need to look after your mental and physical health to be able to help a loved one in prison in the best way, so take the time to care for yourself just as much as – perhaps even more than – your loved one in prison.

Only when you are well can you do your best for anyone else, including other family members who may need your support. So take time for self-care.

That said, when your loved one is in prison, the best thing to do for them, your family and yourself is to try to stay in control of the situation.

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Namaste!
Thank you for visiting!
For a regular dose of happiness twice a month, subscribe via email

Disclosure
Some of my posts may contain affiliate links to products or services I’ve experienced and recommend. When you use these links to buy, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I will donate this commission to charity. Thank you. ❤

If you are a family member or friend of a person who has been convicted of a crime, you may be suffering from emotional, financial or other hardships. You may be concerned about your children, how you will move forward or how you can help and support your loved one or friend.

Help is available for you and your family to get through this difficult period. This section provides information to assist you. It also guides you to more details about support services available to you.

If your family member or friend is a youth, then they are treated differently. See Youth Justice for more information.

If your loved one or friend is an offender, they may receive a custodial sentence, community supervision sentence or a combination of both. See Understanding Your Sentence (Adult Offender) for more information.

Keeping in Touch with an Offender in Jail

If your loved one or friend is being held in a correctional centre, you may keep in touch with them by telephone, mail or regular visits. For information about visiting a loved one or friend in jail, visit Offender in Custody.

Telling Children

It is difficult to tell children someone they are close to, especially a parent, is in jail. Here are some helpful things to think about.

  • Children may blame themselves and feel they did something wrong that caused the situation
  • Children are smart. They may become confused or distrustful if what they are told does not make sense in light of their own experience
  • It is better if the child hears it from you, the caregiver, rather than from someone else, like someone at school
  • If children are not given an explanation that makes sense, they will invent their own explanation

Support Services and More Information

Services are available for a person convicted of a crime and their family members or loved ones.