August 14, 2014

Otero County Prison Facility offers treatment to inmates

8-14-2014 New Mexico:

Prison has treatment program for sex offenders

CHAPARREL >> Small groups of convicted sex offenders sit in circles inside a clutch of classrooms at the Otero County Prison Facility.

Led by therapists, the inmates talk about their crimes and learn ways to avoid committing them again.

The inmates are undergoing a sex offender treatment program inside a new facility at the prison, dedicated on Wednesday but already open for business.

OCPF Warden James Frawner said Management Training Corporation — the company that operates the prison — the state of New Mexico and Otero County entered into an agreement to house sex offenders at the facility and offer a sex offender treatment program.

Frawner said the facility was built entirely by inmates and is designed to help sex offenders have a chance to stay out of prison and "not do something where they come back in."

"The purpose was to make the state of New Mexico a better place to be if these people got out," he said.

Frawner said when a sex offender inmate completes their prison sentence, their transported and released to the parole and probation office in the city that they committed the crime or released to a family member if the inmate is not required to be on supervision and not simply dropped off outside the prison facility's front gate.

New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Gregg Marcantel said New Mexico has had a serious public safety problem with regard to the way it deals with sex offenders.

Marcantel said failures within the state prison system have resulted in sex offenders often being returned to communities without proper treatment or sufficient supervision.

"What we had every year were sex offenders sitting around marginalized within the prison system, not getting the treatment that we know we need to deliver," he said. "That doesn't sound like sound public safety policy."

MTC President and CEO Scott Marquardt said his company operates 24 correctional facilities with 30,000 inmates across the United States.

Marquardt said MTC wants to offer programs that "give offenders the opportunity to make new choices that will help them successfully reenter society when they are released from prison."

He said sex offenders are typically thought of as a difficult population to treat, but said the program used at the prison has had "strong positive results at other locations."

Marquardt said classrooms at the facility offer psychotherapy in individual and group settings that aim to help offenders gain control over deviant behavior, show empathy for victims, increase healthy social interactions and "demonstrate a sound relapse prevention plan."

"We will substantially increase the amount of time each offender spends in the program," he said. "We are working with offenders to accept full responsibility for their offenses."

Convicted sex offender Juan Salaz — who has been in prison for 14 years — said he was serving a sentence for a sex crime and aggravated assault. Salaz did not specify the nature of the crime for which he was convicted but said he signed up for the program voluntarily about a month ago.

"I'm trying to pinpoint the malfunctioning thinking that I had in the past," Salaz said.

He said that he holds a master's degree in psychology and wants to possibly contribute to a similar program when he is released from prison.

Salaz said that he hasn't gone through the entire program yet but noted that he has seen changes in other inmates who have.

"I feel that it's helping me," he said. "It's released a lot of pent-up emotions."

Deputy Warden Ruben Benavidez said inmates participate in a phased program that lasts from about a year to a year-and-a-half. He said the program has already had some graduates.

Benavidez said the prison follows a program developed by Dr. Julie C. Medlin, a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment of sex offenders.

"She's been nice enough to make it down here, train our staff," he said. "We have six staff members. They have training and they follow the Medlin program to a tee."

Benavidez said inmates do about four hours of therapy in small groups, talking about their offenses and learning to accept responsibility for what they have done.

"That's the biggest thing — accepting responsibility," he said. "We try to change their way of thinking so we can reduce the recidivism rate."

Officials said the facility cost about $400,000 to build the 6,000 square foot facility, with half of the money coming from Otero County and the rest from MTC.

District 3 Otero County Commissioner Ronny Rardin said he was awarded the contract for the facility but disclosed his involvement and hasn't and will not vote on anything related to it.

OCFP houses approximately 360 state inmates, most of whom are sex offenders, making it the largest sex-offender treatment facility in the state, according to a press release.

District 1 Otero County Commissioner Tommie Herrell said the idea for facility arose out of a need to replace lost revenue when the number of federal prisoners held at the prison dropped.

"Basically our inmate population was down and we had to do something else," he said. ..Source.. by John Bear

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