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How Does Your Garden Grow?
By Brian Farmer, WY DOC - Policy and Planning Manager
Published: 06/28/2010

Working garden Spring has sprung in Wyoming. That means that there is likely warm weather and sunshine one day with wind and heavy snows the next. It is a time of hope, excitement, and anticipation. As we shake off the heavy slumber of winter, we look forward to new beginnings. We await the greening of the grass, the budding of the trees, and the bloom of flowers. Wyoming is blessed with a natural beauty and spring is the time when new life emerges, awakening our yearning to be in the great outdoors.

Spring is a time for planting gardens. It is a time to break open the earth and prepare the land to give new life. While I may be better suited to tend to a rock garden than a vegetable garden, an irony for a man of my cognomen, it occurs to me that gardening provides a rich analogy for organizational life. More specifically, gardening provides a metaphor for where we, the Wyoming Department of Corrections, are in the spring of 2010.

It may, at first, seem odd to speak of an organization as a garden. More typically, we refer to organizations as “machines” or “families.” Yet the garden metaphor provides us with a powerful insight into the life of an organization. A garden does not live just one season. Rather, it is a cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, and tilling. A garden must be planned, cultivated, and pruned in order to bear fruit. One cannot force a garden to grow -- cannot command it to grow while sitting back in the shade and awaiting a result. In addition to providing the right environment and conditions for growth, a gardener must labor to bring about the harvest. So, too, is it with an organization.

A Vision for the Department

In 2006, Director Lampert articulated a vision for WDOC that called for a seamless correctional system aimed at improving community safety through evidenced-based crime prevention, risk/need assessment, and recidivism reduction strategies. He principled effective correctional interventions for the department upon
  • targeting criminogenic needs;
  • assessing and treating high risk;
  • basing program design upon proven theoretical models;
  • using a cognitive-behavioral approach;
  • disrupting the delinquency network;
  • providing intensive services;
  • using the responsivity principle which matches the offender with the right program setting and approach;
  • planning for relapse prevention;
  • integrating with community-based services; and
  • reinforcing the integrity of the system through evaluation.

The vision was not so much new as it was a focusing of the direction of the department. The master gardener had surveyed the land and laid out a plan for a bountiful harvest.

Targeting Specific Needs

Much work has taken place in the garden in the intervening four years.
  • We have cultivated the growth of offender programs.
  • We have paired assessments, such as COMPAS, that identify criminogenic risks and needs with individualized offender case plans. (Criminogenic risks and needs are those factors related to offending that can be changed.)
  • We have implemented Monitor, an electronic case management system for probationers and parolees.
  • We have improved substance abuse programming and have made efforts to provide sex offender programming.
  • WDOC has identified cognitive-based program models that increase chances for offenders to change their behavior. We have implemented PRISM, a system of positive reinforcement, incentives and sanctioning to guide desired behavior for probationers and parolees. We have engaged offenders with Motivational Interviewing in order to enhance the offender’s intrinsic motivation to change.
  • We have expanded inmate work, education and vocational opportunities in order to provide inmates with the skills necessary to obtain jobs and succeed.
  • We have recognized that effective programs refer offenders to other community-based programs with good track records.
  • We have focused on highest needs offenders through increased contacts, ensuring that intensive services are targeted at those offenders with the greatest risk or need.
  • We have recognized that we must continually monitor program development, structure and implementation and have established regular audits to assess compliance with correctional standards.

The gardening metaphor can be extended beyond the organization and applied to the work that has been accomplished with offenders as well. Much like weeding the garden, an offender learns to identify the factors that led him/her to be criminal and how to make those changes necessary to live crime-free. Staff members role model and reinforce pro-social behaviors while redirecting anti-social behaviors. Programming has helped to nourish each offender’s growth. We have used evidenced-based programs that focus on thinking and behavior to emphasize accountability, problem solving, decision making, and self control. Recognizing that offenders also need to establish healthy roots, we have improved community and stakeholder partnerships.

Staff Development is Essential

We have also focused on the growth of our employees. We have certified the correctional officer series under P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards & Training), underscoring the professionalization of our staff. We have increased staff training and professional development at all levels. A number of senior staff members have become Certified Corrections Executives by the American Correctional Association. Leadership and management training has been offered in partnership with the National Institute of Corrections with programs such as Management Development for the Future. Supervisory staff have been encouraged to attend Wyoming Introductory Supervisor Education (WISE) training. We have focused recruitment and retention on highly qualified staff. We have expanded bed capacity at each of our prison facilities and have opened the new Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution, bringing all Wyoming inmates home where they can receive the benefits of a first rate correctional system. We have created flexibility in work schedules and worked to ensure staff salaries are adequate.

Results are Occurring

Today, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labors. We have seen decreases in the employee vacancy rate and turnover rate while seeing improvement in offender success rates and audit compliance rates. As we continue to monitor program development, we will know which parts of our garden are healthiest and which parts require greater tending. We will continue to labor toward a safer Wyoming through the reasonable, safe, secure and humane management of offenders while actively providing those offenders with opportunities to become law abiding citizens. We will be able to prune back areas where growth is stunted in order to shape healthier results. We will continue to maintain security while preparing inmates for successful re-entry into the community. Seasons will come and go, but only through hard work and dedication will we continue to reap a rich harvest and realize the vision of the WDOC.

Re-printed with permission


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