Supporting incarcerated fathers: An exploration of research and practice in Victoria, Australia

Published date01 June 2019
AuthorTess S. Bartlett
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
incarcerated fathers:
An exploration
of research
and practice
in Victoria, Australia
Tess S. Bartlett
Monash University, Australia
In recent decades the number of incarcerated parents has increased on a global scale.
The majority of these prisoners are men, yet there has been very little formal attention
concerning the parenting status of these men, despite knowledge about the impact of
parental incarceration on children being well established. In Victoria, Australia, some
93 per cent of prisoners are men, and more than half of these are fathers, yet they
have also attracted limited scholarly and practitioner attention. This article explores
research and practice accounts regarding support for incarcerated fathers and their
children, particularly emphasising visiting, supported/visiting and fathering units, to
build knowledge in Victoria. To do so it examines 36 publications from 2000 to 2018,
addressing a gap in knowledge relating to supporting father-child relationships from
prison. It concludes by offering pragmatic solutions for the development of supports
that will contribute to the maintenance of these relationships.
fathers, imprisonment, children of prisoners, visiting, programs
Corresponding Author:
Tess S. Bartlett, Department of Social Work, Monash University - Caulfield Campus, Building C, Level 4,
900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East, Victoria 3145, Australia.
Probation Journal
2019, Vol. 66(2) 201–218
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550518820115
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
This review examines research and practice accounts from 2000 to 2018 relating
to imprisoned fathers, with an emphasis on visiting, ‘supported visits’
and fathering
units. The term ‘supported visit’ encapsulates a range of visiting supports and pro-
grams (such as family days, family visits and visiting programs). The aim of this
article is to synthesise the limited knowledge in this area, contributing to a better
understanding of how best to support incarcerated fathers and their children in the
current, and future, prison environment in Victoria, Australia.
Due to limited data regarding supported/visits and units for incarcerated fathers
in Victoria, this article explores the experiences and needs of incarcerated fathers
more generally to provide relevant context, before turning to fathering supports. As
well as generic visiting services, diverse fathering supports also exist. These vary in
length, aim and practicality. Nevertheless, they have been grouped into two cate-
gories: supported visits (see Hansen, 2017; Pierce, 2015; SHINE for Kids (SHINE),
2017) and fathering units (Butler et al., 2015; Clancy and Maguire, 2017). Edu-
cational fathering programs (LaRosa and Rank, 2001; Meek, 2007) are also
explored to ascertain how these might inform practice and/or development of other
fathering supports in prison. Research and practice accounts of all these supports
are explored below.
This article firstly outlines the approach taken in this narrative review, followed by
a brief overview of incarcerated fathers and their children which grounds and
informs the subsequent discussion. The main body examines data grouped into
three themes: prison visiting; supported visits and fathering units; and educational
fathering programs. Lastly, the article concludes with a summary of the main issues,
suggestions for future research and pragmatic solutions for the development of
supports for incarcerated fathers and their children.
Narrative review
This review responds to the following research question:
What does current evidence indicate with regard to supporting father-child relation-
ships during a father’s imprisonment?
Given the negligible research concerning father-child supported/visiting and units
in Victoria, a narrative approach is taken. This approach describes and discusses
the nature of research on a specific topic and is theoretically or contextually driven
(Rother, 2007). As research regarding incarcerated fathers has only recently
gained traction, and to ensure the widest scope for this review, research data from
2000 to 2018 were sought. Data were predominantly drawn from English lan-
guage publications in western settings including, for example, the United States
(US), the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand (NZ), Scandinavia and a limited pool
from Australia, the study setting. Identified materials were organised into categories
202 Probation Journal 66(2)

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