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Reentry Effort Advances
By Bob Anez, Communications Director, Montana Department of Corrections
Published: 03/19/2012

Mt doc reentry2012mar19 The Department of Corrections' project to enhance and focus its reentry efforts was introduced to key staff at Montana State Prison in early February, a recognition of the critical role that the state's largest correctional facility must play in the success of the effort.

More than 40 unit managers and case managers from throughout the 1,485-bed Deer Lodge prison gathered for the briefing on the Montana Reentry Initiative.

Deputy Warden Ross Swanson laid the groundwork for the more than three-hour meeting by emphasizing that providing reentry services and programs that help inmates transition to their communities upon leaving prison is nothing new. But the new effort to improve that work is here to stay, he said.

"All of us in our job duties have been doing reentry over the years," he said. "What we haven't seen is an overall orchestrated effort in the Department of Corrections.”

Changes in state and department leadership won't alter the initiative, he added. "Regardless of the new governor and new director, we will be doing reentry and we will be doing it better."

Updating the prison staff was a key part of the reentry effort since the process of preparing inmates for reentering communities has to begin when offenders enter prison and continue through their release and their time under community supervision.

Sam Casey, DOC's reentry coordinator, said prison is where an offender management plan has to be developed as a "roadmap" that follows each offender through his or her time in the corrections system. The key to that plan is consistent use of a valid, uniform tool for assessing every offender's needs and risks, he said.

The result will be a clear indication of how to address the educational, addiction, employability, housing and social needs of inmates, Casey explained. The point at which inmates are handed off to community supervision must be seamless and effective if the benefits provided in prison are to transfer to parole or probation, he said.

Prison staff must have the skills to show empathy, provide positive feedback and to intervene at critical times, Casey added. "You are agents for change. You have to remove barriers to change. Don't be one."

Swanson noted that the prison is changing a policy to put more emphasis on education among inmates, who will soon be required to obtain a GED before they can have work assignments. In addition, the prison's education and vocational programs will merge to create more efficiency, he said.

The unit and case managers offered a variety of advice and insights into challenges that reentry efforts face in prison. Among the comments:
  • Some inmates prefer to spend their final few months in locked housing units to avoid incidents that could jeopardize their leaving. Delivery of treatment and other services are difficult in those housing units.
  • Inmates have to be actively involved in development of their case management plans so they know what they need to do.
  • Staff members need to understand that helping in-mates in reentry is part of their jobs and is not some-thing to be criticized as being "soft on inmates."
  • Housing is a crucial element of the reentry process.
  • Inmates from out of state lack family support in the community.
  • Many inmates resist seeking a GED be-cause they don't want to appear uneduc-cated or to be teased by other inmates.
  • Communication be-tween prison staff and community correc-tions staff is a neces-sity for inmates to successfully return to the community.
  • Inmates locked up for long periods of time lack social skills needed on the out-side.
  • Inmates with heinous \crimes and consid-ered high risks to reoffend are very difficult to place in the community, especially in prerelease centers.
  • Some inmates refuse to participate in treatment and merely want to finish serving time and leave.

Development of the DOC's reentry initiative is an ongo-ing process that requires involvement and commitment from all corrections staff, from inside the prisons to within the communities of Montana, Casey said. But it also re-quires the cooperation of all Montanans if the effort is to be successful, recidivism is to decline and Montana is to become safer, he added.

Reprinted with permission.

Other articles by Anez


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