|Shock it to me|
|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter|
Shock incarceration programs, or prison boot camps, have over the years faced scrutiny as intense as a drill instructor sizing up new recruits. From research doubting the validity of the military methodology to states shutting down the programs all together, the future of correctional boot camps has never been certain. But with nearly 36,500 graduates, along with providing its state a savings topping almost $1 billion, the New York State Department of Correctional Services’ Shock Incarceration Program is asserting its right to survive.
Founded in 1987, Shock is an intensive six-month program of hard physical labor, academic education, drug treatment, and personal counseling. Inmates ages 16 through 39, who were convicted of non-violent crimes and are within three years of release are eligible to participate.
There are four designated “Shock facilities” throughout the state: Monterey, Moriah, Lakeview, and Summit. Together they offer a total of 1,410 beds for the program. Shock attributes its success to the “total learning environment” each facility provides. That might sound like a phrase out of Buzzword Bingo, but Shock lives by it.
“The total learning environment means that everyone in the Shock environment is trained to follow the program to the letter,” Shock director Dr. Cheryl Clark explains. “Everyone, staff and inmates, make a complete and total commitment to the Shock model.”
That model starts with a daily schedule that makes even the worst morning commute sound like a pleasantry.
“They get up 5:30 a.m. and the first order of business is their 5:45 physical training,” Clark explains. “They do 45 minutes of calisthenics and strength exercises, and it’s all based on the army training program we’ve adapted for our own use. Then they run.”
The running is one of the most memorable undertakings for many graduates.
“Shock taught me and made me believe I could do anything in world,” says Cheryl Moran, a Shock graduate who went on to develop her own nonprofit organization serving the homeless and ex-offenders. “Running 27 miles, through the mud - Shock gave me the energy. Shock saved my life.”
The rest of the day might require more mental than physical strength, depending on a participant’s schedule.
“After breakfast they get ready for their day,” Clark says. “Some go to school, some go to community service.”
The education component is what gives the program the most bragging rights. A higher percentage of Shock inmates pass the GED compared to any other inmate rehabilitation program in the country.
“One of the things we’re particularly proud of is our academic program,” says Clark. “We work with inmates whose average education ability is at a fifth grade level, but we have the highest passing rate of the GED in or out of prison.”
Last year, Shock inmates passed the GED at a rate of 86 percent, compared with 58 percent of New York’s general public. The typical grade level improvement in other GED programs is three years, according the Clark. In Shock, inmates have improved by as much as nine years.
“And we do it in less than a quarter of the time most other GED programs do,” she adds.
As for the community service component, inmate crews performed services that were estimated to be worth at least $6.2 million to municipalities in 2005. In 2006, Shock work crews logged 1.2 million hours in community service.
“They work in the community doing a variety of services jobs that provide for needs in the community that cannot be handled by paid positions,” Clark says. “We take no one’s jobs away. They do storm clean up, fire support, a whole variety of community services.”
In the midst of all the physical training, classroom instruction, and community service, participants have a series of performance reviews to pass.
“I don’t know if I could pass them all!” Clark admits. “The inmates are reviewed by their drill instructor, network officer, work crew officer, academic teachers, and alcohol and substance abuse counselor. Some of those reviews are every day.”
The total learning environment doesn’t stay in the Shock facilities; the program’s philosophy is to support offenders when they return home. The recidivism rates for N.Y. Shock are among the best in the country. Even though participants make up less than four percent of the state’s incarcerated population, each year the program accounts for more than ten percent of paroled offenders.
“[Shock] gave me the opportunity to change the way I was thinking and learn how to confront my negative points and reconstruct my life to make it positive,” says Shock graduate Joshua Brown, who now operates his own program helping inmates and ex-offenders get a college education.
There are countless other Shock success stories like Brown’s and Moran’s. While the researchers and administrators work to deliver a final verdict on the effectiveness of boot camps, there are plenty of happy, successful New York Shock graduates who hope the program gets to celebrate another twenty years of success.
Read Correctional Boot Camps: Lessons from a Decade of Research
Early multi-state evaluation of prison boot camps
Check out a shock program in South Carolina
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