April 6, 2015

Inmate rehabilitation program needs changes, officials say

4-6-15 Washington:

Washington state prisons are rethinking a program designed to change inmates’ thinking.

Independent researchers and state officials say the pilot program tested on hundreds of inmates at Eastern Washington’s Coyote Ridge and Airway Heights corrections centers must be restructured before the program can expand.

“The first thing we are going to do is fix the two pilots, Airway and Coyote,” said Dan Pacholke, deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections.

The agency is drawing up a “corrective action plan” based on recommendations in a March report from Washington State University researchers.

The report sheds more light on a program that is the subject of a lawsuit by Corrections employees, who allege agency officials falsely labeled it a success.

The program’s goal when it debuted three years ago was to provide, in prison, “cognitive-behavioral services” that Corrections officials said are more typically used around the country to help released inmates cope with life outside prison than inside prison.

The program aims to replace antisocial thinking with empathy, problem solving and self-reflection. It offers rewards for good behavior that have ranged from movie night to ice cream.

“If you fundamentally don’t change someone’s criminal orientation, you can give them a GED or you can train them to be a welder, but if you haven’t somehow kind of undid the thinking process that got them involved in crime to begin with, the intervention’s not going to take as well,” Pacholke said.

Similar programs have seen success elsewhere, researchers say. At one point less than a year into Washington’s experiment, officials announced it was working here, too. The program was paying off with more safety for staff, Pacholke said in an agency blog post that cited 75 percent fewer violent infractions in the cell blocks that housed program participants than in neighboring cell blocks.

Officials today neither fully stand by nor disown that claim, which was questioned in 2013 by two state employees who later sued the Corrections Department saying they were demoted in retaliation. The employees cited a preliminary version of the WSU report to show that agency claims were overblown. ..Continued.. by Jordan Schrader

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