Inmate rehab programs sharpen focus in hard times

“Prisons Cut the Rehab Training” (March 8, Page A1) points out the importance of rehabilitating inmates, but missed a key point: Old ways of doing business have not been effective enough in reducing recidivism.

In my previous position as inspector general overseeing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, I found that its substance abuse programs were “a $1 billion failure.” We have done a great deal since then to improve outcomes.

Yet, some seem to want to stay stuck in the past with no attention to whether programs worked.

Due to the state budget crisis, spending on CDCR’s offender rehabilitation programs has been reduced by more than a third, but we are now focusing on cost-effective programs that reduce recidivism and have eliminated programming that did not prove successful.

As recommended by an expert panel, we are using evidence-based assessments to target services to offenders at the highest risk of returning to prison.

We are shortening our in-prison substance abuse programs to three months from the past six to 36 months to reach more inmates and emphasizing community aftercare treatment – a combination that has been shown to reduce recidivism. We will still be able to provide substance abuse services to 8,450 inmates annually – not 2,400 as stated in the article.

We are strongly emphasizing GED attainment, which can reduce recidivism up to 7 percent, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. More students – not fewer – will be enrolled in GED classes by utilizing teachers’ aides and combining classroom instruction with independent study. We are emphasizing vocational programs that can be completed in 12 months – which can reduce recidivism up to 9 percent.

For the first time, California is insisting that an inmate satisfactorily pass program requirements to earn time-off credits. New legislation authorizes as much as six additional weeks of credit for completing re- habilitation programs.

CDCR is training long-term inmates as certified drug- and alcohol-abuse counselors to help their fellow inmates recover and attain a marketable skill upon release, training inmates as literacy tutors and doubling funding for prisons to sponsor community volunteer activities such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help programs.

Instead of staying mired in the failed policies of the past, our decision to focus on high-risk offenders, maximize use of existing resources and focus on programs proven to reduce recidivism is the right thing to do under challenging circumstances.

Read more here: