Integrated Criminal Justice Systems Working Collaboratively to Reduce Recidivism

Article excerpt

Why do we offer programs to inmates? We often take the answer to this question for granted. Those of us who have been in this business for many decades remember that programs have been offered to inmates during our entire careers. In 1974, we did not measure whether the inmates in my adult basic education class reoffended any less than others, but there was a fundamental belief among staff that if inmates could not read, it made sense to teach them how to fill out a job application--and if successful, there was a better chance that those offenders would not recidivate. We did feel that offering programming was the right thing to do and part of the way prisons operated, even though treatment staff often felt like they were separated from operations because their roles did not frequently intersect.

Robert Martinson's 1974 article was highly critical of the effectiveness of correctional programming, arguing that based on the evaluation studies then available, "nothing works" relative to treatment programming in corrections.' In reality, there was a real lack of well-documented research on programs that could inform, if not guide, the design of future programming in the field. Instead of giving up, corrections professionals accepted the Martinson challenge and began to track program effectiveness and, after many years, looked at designs of effective programs.

During the past 30 years, considerable research has been conducted regarding changing criminal behavior. This research has morphed from what was referred to in the 1980s and 1990s as "what works" in corrections, to what is now known as evidence-based practices (EBPs). Though there are a variety of outcomes that EBPs may achieve, much of the research associated with this long-term evolution has centered on the reduction of offender recidivism. Ultimately, many correctional systems have adopted the use of EBPs and acknowledge recidivism rates as a measure of effectiveness. Specifically, recidivism rates have been elevated in importance within the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC).

Foundation Necessary for Effective Programming

Today, DRC has simplified its purpose into two fundamental missions: to reduce crime in Ohio and to reduce recidivism among those who are supervised. With DRC's 50,000 inmates in prison, more than 30,000 offenders under community supervision and another 40,000 offenders in programs, there is a significant opportunity to have an impact on those who have violated the law--and in turn, keep the citizens of Ohio safer. If the DRC is to be successful in achieving its vision and mission, then its system must contain certain elements.

First, people must feel safe. Until both staff and inmates feel safe, little positive change in people or operations is possible. This includes offenders who participate in programs--even when cognitive programs are designed consistently with research and delivered by competent and trained staff. As a result, violence reduction initiatives are integral and prerequisite to effective program delivery.

Secondly, the facility's culture must support pro-social communication among staff as well as between staff and offenders. Hostility or conflict interrupts the process of offenders moving forward with constructive life-change. The National Institute of Corrections identified the importance of culture on facility operations a decade ago, and launched an initiative to conduct cultural assessments as a foundational, prerequisite process to technical assistance offerings aimed at system improvement.

Finally, staff resources such as training and the availability of programs provide the tools for changing lives. Correctional staff must have a fundamental belief that those offenders under our supervision are capable of change. While many staff do carry this belief, some staff may not due to experiences with violent inmates while on the job. However, maintaining an environment where inmates are considered human beings is perhaps the most critical component of a system committed to rehabilitation. …