In-House Academy Custom Trains Colorado Parole Officers

Article excerpt

With state governments facing severe budget reductions and hiring freezes, can a handful of people within a large correctional department make an organizational change in an effort to transform offenders on parole?

Starting with a mission and mandate from Gov. Bill Ritter to cut prison populations through reduced recidivism, the Colorado Department of Corrections' Division of Adult Parole, Community Corrections and Youthful Offender System (APCCYOS) is investing what it has in abundance: intellectual capital. Colorado has created a promising professional development strategy that places parole officers with combined training in evidence-based practices and parole strategies and procedures on the front lines of Gov. Ritter's challenge. New community parole officers do not arrive already fluent in motivational interviewing and other evidence-based practices. Instead, new officers are trained and developed at the Kathleen Recla Academy, the only dedicated parole-specific academy in the nation within a department of corrections setting.

The year 2008 was busy for CDOC. The department received ACA's Gold Eagle Award for achieving full accreditation. At the same time it began strategically employing reentry concepts and integrating evidence-based practices to more effectively work toward reduced recidivism. The department and the division are encouraging and supporting dialogue between management and line staff in an effort to foster a lifelong learning approach to leadership. It offers communication tools such as motivational interviewing, and other evidence-based practices successfully in use in other sectors, and moves to apply them to the habilitation of offenders. The Kathleen Recla Academy, part of the ProfessionalDevelopment @RECLA group, is a productive part of this collaborative process.

Training Academy

Formed in the summer of 2007 with the support of CDOC Executive Director Aristedes Zavaras and APCCYOS Director Jeaneene Miller, the Resource for Education/Career/Leadership/Advancement (RECLA) Academy memorializes community parole officer Kathleen Recla, a model officer whom the agency lost to cancer in 2006. Planning and action took a fast track in July and August 2007 and by September the first academy class arrived. With no permanent home, the academy was lent a classroom at the National Institute of Corrections training facility and another from the Environmental Protection Agency's National Enforcement Training Institute. For six weeks the academy traveled between NIC and NETI on a week-by-week basis using whatever suitable classroom the federal facilities might have available. The academy graduated its first class of 32 community parole officers on Oct. 12, 2007, with a total staff of four and an operating budget roughly the salary of a mid-level administrative assistant.

With no funds for faculty, ProfessionalDevelopment@RECLA (PD@RECLA) faced its first daunting hurdle--where to find individuals with substantive expertise and teaching skills. As it turned out, these individuals were mostly in its own backyard. A divisionwide call was sent out explaining what RECLA was trying to accomplish and asking for volunteers. Within one week 13 had signed up, which quickly grew to nearly 70. Bright and enthusiastic instructors emerged from all sectors of the division, including reentry, mental health, administration, legal, the youthful offender system and operations. Experience was offered from other areas of CDOC, offender and victim advocacy groups, and the external community.

Before they instruct students, faculty community parole officers complete 24 hours of instructor training in lesson plan development, teaching styles, classroom presentation and materials preparation, all while maintaining full caseloads. PD@RECLA guided course development takes into account department approved policies and practices, ACA standards and state administrative regulations. An instructor's presentation, however, always includes a real-world perspective and frequent references to personal experience in the application of the taught principals. …