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Positive Direction for Change
By Les Pozsgi, WY DOC - Administrator, Division of Field Services
Published: 07/19/2010

Positive change “Providing incentives and rewarding specific desired behavior motivates individuals to work toward long term behavior change.” This simple statement is the tenet for supervision strategies developed and utilized with offenders under probation or parole in our communities. These strategies focus on public safety, victim protection and restitution, offender accountability, consistent and effective sanctioning, addressing substance abuse issues, reducing offender unemployment and most critically, reducing recidivism through long term behavior modification.

The Positive Reinforcements, Incentives and Sanction Matrix (PRISM) provide guidance for the initiation of positive reinforcement and imposing of sanctions. This matrix is in grid form, identifies common behaviors, both desirable and undesirable and responses to both. Many community correction agencies across the nation employ similar matrix to guide decisions around offender supervision. PRISM is unique with the identification and use of positive rewards to provide incentives, recognize specific behavior, motivate offenders and achieve long term behavior change. This focus on positive direction for change is a true example of the Department’s progressive efforts and is on the leading edge for community corrections.

How we operationalize this evidence-based practice include:
  • Assess actuarial risk and need
  • Enhance intrinsic motivation
  • Target interventions using

    • Risk principles – that prioritize supervision and treatment
    • Need principles – to target interventions based on criminogenic needs
    • Dosage – structure offender time
    • Responsivity – be responsive to offender need and target predictors of recidivism

  • Match the client with the right intervention
  • Increase positive reinforcement
  • Strengthen pro-social influences
  • Measure relevant processes/practices
  • Provide feedback

Community supervision protocol are established through “Encouraging Desired Behavior and Responding to Violations” policy and supported by the “Positive Reinforcements, Incentives and Sanction Matrix (PRISM).” Field staff promote desired behavior as a mechanism to reduce the likelihood of violations of conditions of supervision and to effect long term change. A case plan is developed in partnership with the offender to assess motivation for change, identify goals with associated desired behaviors and to maximize focus on achieving pro-social changes. Motivational Interviewing (MI), knowledge of change principles and cognitive behavioral interventions are critical skills used during community supervision. Positive reinforcement will apply when progress toward positive change is realized and may include awards, increased liberties, reduction in supervision and consideration/request for early discharge.

Undesired behaviors and violation behaviors are addressed through an established system of graduated sanctions which may vary from verbal reprimand, increased contacts, and written assignments to curfew, travel restrictions, supervision level regression or extension and in specific situations, loss of liberty. Sanctions are consistent, address specific undesired behaviors and violations that necessitate change and require the offender’s collaboration in the form of a sanction agreement to ensure that the response is meaningful and relevant to the offender.

Protocols used to train staff in these supervision skill sets is also unique with the incorporation of those developmental methodology associated with the Department’s Management Development for the Future (MDF) leadership training. Pre and post work assignments were developed and coaching sessions employed. Training opportunities are also provided to members of the Board of Parole and community correction program staff. A supportive partnership focusing on this system of incentives, rewards and sanctions with local judiciary continues to grow with recognition and respect for local judicial practice.

This is an exciting opportunity for the Department and Division of Field Services.

Re-printed with permission


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