Minette is our internationally known guest blogger and focuses on what she has seen in prison that helps reduce recidivism through specific communities and services in prison.
Whether a prisoner works or goes to school or programs, there is still down time spent in front of the television or shooting the breeze. Some have their own television, others have it in the common areas. If the television is in the common area, there is a pecking order of who picks what everyone watches. As mentioned in an earlier post, this pecking order or allocation of televisions can be a source of contention among the residents. Fights do break out about who is in charge.
People who got out of prison said watching shows helped them become familiar with technologies and inventions that didn’t exist when they went in. Others felt sitting there watching television all day effectively institutionalized the inmates. There was no initiative or energy involved. It depends on a person’s perspective and what they watched.
I’ve read some prisoners got involved in games like dungeons and dragons. People I spoke with said they played card games or chess; when they were in the yard, they walked the track, played sports including basketball and handball. They also read, with a large percentage indicating they read their bible. They also wrote letters, kept journals, and made drawings. There’s a lot of artistic people in prison.
Several interviewees commented on how important being respectful of others is in prison. It goes hand in hand with the concept of staying in your own lane. To avoid any violence, you give people enough space, you don’t touch their stuff unless specifically told you can, you don’t look into someone’s cell as you pass, and you don’t try to listen in on another’s conversation. You just don’t invite yourself into another person’s life unless invited. Prisons are crowded and cramped. Some residents have anger issues or mental health problems, all feel the frustration associated with the lack of control over their own lives. The environment is depressing with dull colors and endless uniformity. There’s limited daylight and people miss their freedom and the people they care about. They feel deprived of almost everything. Staying respectful of others and out of each other’s way, is the best way to survive safely.
For people still struggling with addiction issues, some prisons have set up dedicated housing units, effectively a side campus, for prisoners who choose and are selected to move to a drug free environment. Therapeutic communities focus on a three month to full year substance abuse treatment program. Amity In Prison and Gateway programs are examples. There are intensive counseling meetings, work and mentorships. They can include cognitive behavioral therapy discussing how participants’ perceptions impacts their behavior. The focus is on living right, usually using role models and reinforced by peer support. Often there is a component addressing release and re-entry. Usually inmates go to these communities as they near their release date. Many have after care components that provide valuable support after release. Research indicates a reduction in recidivism associated with participation in these programs, especially those with after care. At least one person I interviewed lived in a therapeutic community, he felt it a welcome relief from the craziness of the standard prison environment.
Some of the most successful programs have been the dog training programs in prison. One of them is located in the California State Prison, a level four, maximum security facility. Prisoners have to be chosen to participate in the program. Results show that recidivism rates drop significantly for those who participated in the program. Check these sites for more information: Patriot Paws, 4 Paws For Ability, Colorado CCI, Paws With A Cause, Alvernia, and Mass.gov.
There are few medical drug programs in prison to reduce dependence on opioids. However, Rhode Island established a program for inmates if their initial health assessment indicated a heroin addiction. Inmates were offered medication assisted drug treatment including either methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. The program claimed a significant reduction in drug overdoses after release from prison.
There are programs, such as Soldier On, that try to re-instill the strong values of the military back into incarcerated veterans. The prisons keep the veterans in cell blocks dedicated to only veterans and often provide these inmates with mental health services to address their PTSD, aggression, and addiction problems. The residents are reported to feel they all look out for each other because they have had similar experiences on the outside. There is an effort to give them interesting projects to work on, one group built a garden to act as a way-station for butterfly migration, another builds dog houses with military motif decorations. There is usually support after they leave. Again, with this extra support, the recidivism rate is much lower than the general population.