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Shocking challenge
By Sarah Etter, News Reporter
Published: 12/04/2006

Cip1204 In the early 1990s, a trend called “shock incarceration” began to spread through corrections systems like wildfire. It meant that first-time offenders would be sentenced to intense boot camps for training, exercise and education for up to 90 days, in lieu of incarceration.

But shock incarceration is controversial. Proponents say the programs scare offenders out of a criminal mindset, and some DOCs still have the programs in place. Critics believe the programs are too harsh and alienate participants.

“We really decided we wanted to steer away from shock incarceration,” explains Shari Burt, Minnesota DOC spokeswoman. “We felt the model would not be as effective as one that provided additional programming such as education and chemical dependency treatment.”

Minnesota's legislators agreed, and instead of mandating physically intensive boot camps, they created the challenge incarceration program.

Unlike mandatory camps, CIP is a voluntary three-phase program with each phase lasting six months. Offenders must have 48 months remaining in their sentences, and must not have committed crimes such as murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery or injury to another person within the last ten years.

The first phase focuses on substance abuse treatment, education and cognitive thinking skills. In the second and third phases, offenders are released into the community, but kept under rigorous surveillance that decreases in steps depending on their behavior and success in the program.

According to Burt, the prospect of early release motivates many inmates to complete the challenge.

“Offenders who go into the CIP get time taken off of their sentence if they succeed, but if they fail in any of the three phases, they have to make up that time in regular incarceration. Days taken off depend on individual offender, and those days are determined during a review at the end of the program,” Burt says.

CIP has been so successful that state legislators voted to double funding after a recently released report showed the program saved the MNDOC $18 million over the last ten years by increasing bed space and reducing recidivism.

“We are doubling the capacity for males to 180 beds in 2007 because we've seen such accomplishment from these offenders,” explains Burt. “They are really working hard.”

To figure out the long-term challenge results, MNDOC researchers reviewed CIP's history from a numbers perspective.

“Our research into CIP's effectiveness looked at 1,347 offenders enrolled in the program compared to a control group of 1,155 offenders who did not participate,” says Grant Dewey, MNDOC researcher and CIP report author. “We looked at the rates of recidivism and the cost savings. Basically, it came down to how often CIP inmates returned to prison compared to the control group.”

The report found that program participants reduced their chances of recidivating by 35 percent. Dewey also found that CIP's early release component saved the department 1,500 beds annually, freeing up much-needed space for ineligible offenders.

“It is a long, intense program with a great reward at the end,” he says. “That is certainly a motivator, but the treatment components are critical, too.”

Dewey hopes the CIP's success will make it a new model to replicate, leaving shock incarceration behind.

“We definitely might see that some states modify how they are running boot camps,” he adds. “Based on what the CIP has done, these states could make changes and see more promising findings with offender recidivism and cost savings.”

Bottom line: Programs that promote hard work and offer incentives, like shorter sentences, might reduce recidivism and DOC costs better than shock incarceration programs.

Related resources:

More information on CIP


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