Throughout the country, relatives, organizations and churches work to fill the parenting voids left incarcerated parents, mostly fathers, but a program at the Henry County Jail is enabling male inmates to assume their parenting role, even from behind bars.
"Sometimes, they think they cannot be a parent while they are in jail, but actually they can," declares Lori Roscoe, executive director of Correct Health Community Development Center, Inc.
She is part of a non-profit agency that conducts a "Parents Inside and Out" course at the jail. It teaches male inmates how to be effective parents from their cells.
"The Parents Inside and Out program being facilitated Correct Health at the county jail is ... an opportunity to help the inmates find another way to better improve their life-skills and become a better, productive citizen," said Henry County Chief Deputy David McCart.
"Outside the normal responsibilities and what people think about a jail," he said, "it is a great opportunity to take a captive audience and let the ones with the heart, desire and initiative, work on their problems and issues, all in hopes to become a better person, and make better choices in their lives.
"The participants in the past three graduation classes have been very impressive in expressing their newly-learned like-coping skills, that will help them to become a better parent, and, hopefully, we will see less of them in the county jail, and more as a productive, law-abiding citizen."
The inmates are taught how to maintain communications with their children, and how to effectively engage with them. It is a 12-week course, taught every Saturday for an hour and a half.
"The students are given homework assignments every week to complete for the class," said Roscoe. "It's really not an easy class, and not every participant completes the program." But for those who do, there is a graduation ceremony.
There were 13 graduates earlier this month, inside the jail's courtroom. The inmates, who received their certificates, represented 77 children, according to officials. Since the program was launched last year, 28 men have graduated.
The course is designed to teach general parenting skills to fathers. All classes are taught weekly, and participation is voluntary. There are specific components of the course that teaches inmates how to parent while incarcerated, Roscoe said. The instructor is Donnarae Baity, a licensed professional counselor from Rome, Ga., who commutes to the county on weekends.
"We are a branch that was developed from Correct Health, which is a company that provides health-care services to incarcerated individuals," said Roscoe. "This is basically the company's way of giving back to the community in which we serve."
The Correct Health Community Development Center is completely funded donations and grants. All of the classes are free to the participants and to the county, according to Roscoe. The agency also conducts classes in substance abuse and healthy thinking.
Roscoe said one of the most touching comments came from one of the inmates, who said he was grateful for getting a second chance to be a father.
"Many of them also spoke about communication and listening skills they learned during the course," Roscoe said. "All of them developed a parenting plan that began while they were incarcerated, and will continue once they are released from jail."
There is an aftercare specialist who works with the inmates during their incarceration, and maintains contact with them after they are released.
Carlo Musso, president of the Board for Correct Health Community Development Center, said the recent graduation ceremony was inspiring.
"It's like a re-entry program at a local level," said Musso. "Incarceration takes a toll on the individual, and particularly their family."
He said the "Parents Inside and Out" course seeks to get the inmates back on track to be a parent, a caregiver, and as a provider, as well as the head of their household. "The idea being that we are breaking the cycle of incarceration and, hopefully, preventing the cycle of incarceration from generation to generation. I applaud the efforts of Sheriff [Keith] McBrayer and his staff for making this possible."