One tool court system uses for rehab
Sentencing is not just for punishing those who break the law.
There are rehabilitation aspects and the court system has many tools at its disposal to help offenders not make the same mistakes again.
The cognitive education program of Warren County adult probation is one.
“It’s one more tool in the toolbox to try to improve their success,” Probation Director Carl McKee said. “If they’re successful, they don’t come back.”
The program can be successful even if an offender
“Even if they do recidivate, it takes longer or is not as bad,” he said.
“Our groups have done very well,” Facilitator Fran Hanlin said.
But, “it’s not automatic,” Facilitator Jessica Arnold said.
The program is not for hard-core offenders. “Most of the people we’re dealing with, they feel remorse, they feel guilt,” McKee said.
Many of the participants have good value systems, according to the facilitators, they just don’t think about how their actions don’t line up with those values.
“We really don’t focus on what they did wrong,” Hanlin said. “We focus on moving forward.”
“We’re trying to help our offenders make better decisions,” Arnold said.
“We behave based on our thoughts and our feelings,” McKee said. “If we can get them back to (acting on) their thoughts, maybe we can help them do better.”
“It gets them thinking about their values,” Arnold said.
“Why would you do that if it’s something you don’t want to do?” McKee said.
The program helps offenders understand consequences.
“A lot of people, a high value for them is being a good parent,” Hanlin said.
When they think about it, the offenders don’t want to do things to jeopardize that particular value.
“Those are the relationships that get affected by their behaviors,” McKee said.
The curriculum is provided by the National Curriculum and Training Institute.
“It’s an accredited, 12-week program,” Arnold said. Classes meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. once night a week.
There are 10 to 12 people in a typical class. And probation selects which offenders are the right fit. “We try to carefully tune the groups that we are using,” McKee said. “We are looking offenders that are similar.”
In the introduction in the workbook provided to all participants, there is an explanation of the goals of the course. “Cognitive life skills is designed to help you develop a personal plan to achieve your potential as a positive, law-abiding, contributing citizen of society. You have been given an opportunity to participate in this program because the court sees your potential and is extending you its trust. The court had other choices and chose to invest in you.”
There is only one way into the class.
“They’re sentenced to it,” McKee said.
And it is only optional for those who are willing to have their probation revoked.
Offenders have to pay for the program. But, if they complete the class, the cost comes out of administrative fees that they have already paid.
At the start, participants take a baseline test. They take the same test at the end to see if they are better equipped to make better decisions.
Along the way, the participants fill out personal awareness journals. They document situations they encounter, how they feel, and how they react.
Often, the members of the class work as a group. They work through hypothetical situations and real-life dilemmas.
Program topics include substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, responsibility and consequences, budgeting, and family and relationships.
When a new class starts, the participants are not eager. “They’re apprehensive,” Hanlin said. “They’re there because they have to be.”
Eventually, many find it very valuable.
“They enjoy it,” Hanlin said. “We’ve had people tell us they want to sign up for the next class.”
In some cases, the offenders have overcome other issues through the program. “One guy could not read,” Hanlin said. The program was his motivation. “By the end, he could read the test by himself.”
Another participant had anxiety about speaking in front of the group initially. “By the end, she was standing up in front of people talking about her life,” Hanlin said.
Thinking about what they want to do with their lives is important in the program and a change for some of the participants. “When they talk about their goals it’s really great,” Arnold said.
The relationship between the offenders and the officers changes, too. “They see the probation officer differently,” Hanlin said.
“It changes the paradigm,” McKee said. “It gets the staff thinking in other ways.”
Facilitators have to go through a week-long training. “I’m going to send most of the staff to the training,” McKee said. “It’s just good training.”
For the facilitators, the learning doesn’t stop after the week. Hanlin and Arnold said they learn from every class.
“I believe it makes me a better person,” Hanlin said.
“It really is a great class to facilitate,” Arnold said. But, offenders have to have some buy-in. “This class is only as good as what you put into it.”