Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)



First Advisor

Dr. Cynthia Searcy


America has the highest incarceration rate in the world with an estimated 2.2 million inmates, and more than five million American children have at least one parent in jail (Murphey, 2015). Prior to imprisonment, many parents are employed, contribute economically to family life, and are engaged in parenting their children. Parent-child relationships that may have been strong pre-incarceration may not thrive once the parent goes to jail due to limited communication and the inmate’s inability to provide financial support for his/her family. Further, once the parent is released from prison, s/he faces fewer options for employment with a criminal history.

Developmental programs in prison such as job training and parenting skills exist to mediate these negative outcomes. Although program participation is associated with a 20% likelihood of increased employment among inmates, little research explores the motivating factors behind program participation (Visher, Debus, & Yahner, 2008). This study poses three research questions that explore child contact and program participation as factors of increased employment post-release. In detail, the first research question explores factors related to child contact in prison, focusing on the history of parent-child financial support prior to incarceration. The second research question explores the relationships between child contact in-prison and program participation. Finally, this paper tests a third research question to explore child contact and program participation as factors of employment outcomes post- release.

Interesting findings from the study suggest that parental inmates with frequent child contact in-prison are likely to have been their child(ren)’s primary source of financial support prior to incarceration. Inmates with frequent reports of child contact are also more likely to participate in developmental programs during their sentences and more likely to be employed post-release. These associations may exist because parental inmates have a sense of responsibility after being in touch with their children. Therefore, policymakers should consider removing contact barriers that complicate phone access and visitation privileges between parental inmates and their minor child(ren).