Idaho Banks on Therapy-Based Treatment Reducing Recidivism

Magic Valley

By Laurie Welch

A guy on the unit comes up and yells at you because you stepped on his bunk again getting to your bed.

“How do you react?” said Terri Tackett, facilitator of a stress management class at North Idaho Correctional Institution.

The answers came from 10 inmates from across Idaho, sentenced to the Idaho Department of Correction’s Retained Jurisdiction Program in Cottonwood. Their answers reflected defensive and aggressive attitudes and demonstrate the faulty thinking that may have landed them in prison.

“How does that work for you guys?” Tackett asked.

Tackett’s job is redirecting their thinking so it’s more socially acceptable and less likely to put them in hot water. She teaches them to identify the feelings of the person who is upset, paraphrase what was said and ask a clarifying question to de-escalate the encounter.

The state is banking on the therapy-based treatment paying off.

IDOC is overhauling its recidivism reduction programs in prison, probation and parole, including the Retained Jurisdiction Program.

For an inmate whose judge retains jurisdiction for 365 days while he or she attends the program, the streamlining will mean fewer program components and a shift from a lot of written coursework — with much of it done outside the classroom — to more work in the classroom, including role-playing and skill practice sessions.

IDOC’s Retained Jurisdiction Program operates at four prison facilities, and it is the same treatment that’s offered to other prison inmates around the state, said Ashley Dowell, Division of Prisons deputy chief.

The crux of the program is keeping people from committing new crimes — and keeping them out of prison.

Skills practice for new learned behavior is an effective means of reducing the number of people who go on to commit another crime. But only three of the 12 components of the former program were running skills practice, Dowell said.

The revised program has four components, some developed by the University of Cincinnati. All use small groups and a facilitator. During the sessions each participant is required to engage in discussions, examples and role playing.

Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions for Substance Abuse, a 180-day program, helps inmates look at the impact drugs and alcohol have on their lives and helps them develop tools to make different choices. Small groups of eight to 10 inmates meet with a facilitator over 44 sessions. Activities help with cognitive, social, emotional and coping skills development.

Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions for Sexual Offenders is taught over 180 days in 52 sessions. Inmates are taught strategies for avoiding sexual offending and related behaviors.

Thinking for a Change is a 120-day program taught in 25 lessons. Developed by the National Institute of Corrections, it concentrates on changing criminal thinking and includes skill development and training in cognitive restructuring, social skills development and development of problem-solving skills.

Aggression Replacement Training, a 120-day program, targets cognitive, behavioral and emotional components of aggression to reduce aggressive behavior. The inmates are taught social skills to improve self control and redirect and reduce their anger.

A fifth component, Advance Skills, will be implemented this summer. If an inmate completes the program, is placed on probation, relapses and is sent to Retained Jurisdiction again, he will be enrolled in the Advance Skills component, where he will practice the skills previously learned and do more role playing.

Before the program change, the groups were being taught differently each time, Dowell said, and inmates were getting multiple messages about how to handle risky situations. Now, inmates who struggle with drug addiction give examples in class of situations that trigger their use. The class facilitator then coaches them on how they can avoid those situations or better deal with the triggers. They also spend time acting out scenarios with classmates.

IDOC did not previously offer all the program components at all of its facilities, and sometimes there were waiting lists.

“The programs are now consistent,” Dowell said.

Faced with one of the fastest growing prison populations in the nation, in March 2014 the state Legislature passed Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment Act. With the measure the state expected to avert between $134 million and $157 million in prison spending between 2015 and 2019 and reduce recidivism by 15 percent.

In fiscal 2015, IDOC’s estimated statewide cost of the program was $24.2 million.

The law requires IDOC to biennially submit a report to the governor and Legislature describing state-funded recidivism reduction programs, which includes the Retained Jurisdiction Program.

In February 2015, IDOC asked the Council of State Governments to assess the impacts of its programs.

The assessment recommended that IDOC eliminate its complicated Pathways System, which the Retained Jurisdiction Program operated under. Pathways appeared to be tailored to suit individual risk and needs, but in reality several pathways were not used and others duplicated services, the report said.

The assessment determined that most of the programs lacked standard criteria to determine when an offender had completed the program, a completion rate between 65 percent and 85 percent (most were lower), staff trained to look for negative effects of treatment, an average group size of eight offenders per facilitator, consistent skill practice and modeling of new behaviors, among other things.

The report recommended that IDOC rely on a few core programs with a proven track record of effectiveness, a cognitive-behavioral approach, graduated skills practice and less reliance on punishment.

IDOC staff began training for the new program’s rollout in November.

The North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood was the first facility to get all four programs started this spring.

Terema Carlin, acting warden at NICI, said IDOC is also working toward implementing more aftercare for inmates in their communities that later will include volunteer mentoring.

“They are looking into that, and it will be invaluable,” Carlin said.