Successful Idaho Program: Addictions Recovery, Cognitive Restructuring and a Team Effort

By Germain, Jeannette | Corrections Today, February 1996 | Go to article overview

Successful Idaho Program: Addictions Recovery, Cognitive Restructuring and a Team Effort


Germain, Jeannette, Corrections Today


A correctional program can be one of the greatest assets of an institution or its worst nightmare," says Mark Gornik, designer/coordinator of a new addictions recovery program at the Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI). "It needs to be set up and monitored carefully or not set up at all," he says. "In a correctional treatment setting, something is not always better than nothing."

Inmate Bill Russell agrees. He is serving four life sentences and is the lead inmate facilitator in the education phase of the program. "This kind of information can be dangerous," he says. "With our ability to control, manipulate and blame others, this could be just another skill."

ISCI administrators knew the risks then, and they know them now. But, over the past three years, they have addressed the potential problems and implemented an innovative outpatient addictions recovery program -- with noteworthy results. Voluntary participation in prison support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, which was 20 to 30 inmates per week, has increased five-fold, to 150 to 200 per week. As many as 75 to 85 percent of inmates who take educational classes volunteer to enter therapy or other ongoing programs. Despite literacy problems, inmates who take the educational classes average a 10 to 15 percent improvement in retention from pre-test to post-test results. The program serves approximately 400 to 500 inmates annually.

The program uses substance abuse education, therapy, cognitive restructuring and cognitive skill building, which, as Gornik points out, are not new components. But the way the components have been combined is new, as is the multidisciplinary team approach, which includes both inmates and officers in the delivery.

Gornik first proposed the program in 1989 as a comprehensive substance abuse program for ISCI, a medium custody facility in Boise. To get the best results with the most efficient use of resources, he advocated cross-training and the use of inmate facilitators. This team approach was supported by former Warden Dave Paskett (now administrator of prisons), under whose direction the program was started, and current Warden Joe Klauser. Inmates, therapists, administrators and officers all were involved.

Although inmate facilitators present inherent problems, the program is set up to address them. Inmates are carefully screened and trained, then closely supervised. They present 30 hours of highly structured drug and alcohol education. While teaching, they are active in their own therapy. Seven medium custody inmate facilitators, ranging in age from 21 to 51, now work in the program. There are waiting lists both for those who want to take classes and those who want to train as facilitators.

The inmates are extremely effective facilitators, says drug and alcohol counselor Dave Oglesbee. "One inmate demonstrates to another that there really is some hope," he says. The facilitators learn legitimate skills while participating in their own recovery. One inmate facilitator, for example, took a statewide qualifying test for chemical dependency technicians. He not only passed; he got the highest score.

Inmate facilitators also free up therapists so they can concentrate on their primary responsibility, which is counseling. The Idaho program is extremely cost-effective, a point not lost on Substance Abuse Programs Supervisor Thomas Beauclair. He is always looking for ways to effectively deliver more treatment at all the correctional institutions in the state because the need is so great. The success of the program has gained the attention of two facilities in Idaho -- the south Idaho Correctional Institution (minimum security) and the Idaho Maximum Security Institution. Both are considering modeling a program after Gornik's.

Officers are a major part of the ISCI program. A 40-hour training program is required for officers who work with inmates in the program. …

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