programmingA guest blog from … call him ‘Donald,’ a federal prison inmate in British Columbia. Donald has blogged here twice before. He’s a prison leader, a quiet man who makes a difference with his thoughtful approach to everything.

Often I overhear inmates talking to each other about having to get their stupid program done so that they can get support for parole, going to a minimum prison, etc. It is this attitude towards programming that makes it difficult for others who are sincere to really get involved in the program materials.

Another one of the problems with the current programming model is that it is fashioned for efficiency rather than effectiveness. In saying this, I mean that the CSC is trying to get as many people through programs as possible to satisfy the parole board so that they are not criticized for not preparing cases for consideration. The programs do not really take into account individual needs and instead run a group of men through a “cookie cutter” program whose effectiveness is questionable at best.

The program model in place in the federal prisons is the ICPM moderate or high intensity. There are no separate substance abuse programs, anger management, cognitive skills, just ICPM. The idea was that incorporating everything into one “superprogram” would be more efficient. The problem is that many are not relating to the material as this thinking programprogram model is not geared to specific needs.

Many inmates are merely playing the game by taking programming and are not shy to say so to other inmates outside the programs classroom. What effect does this have on those who are sincere about change? In my experience it makes it more difficult for someone to express themselves, if they know the majority of people taking the program are not sincere. It is hard to be open when the minds of those you are surrounded by are closed.

programmingSo while the CSC is able to quote numbers that say that they are getting inmates through programs to aid in their reintegration the truth is that the model they are using is not effective. I am not trying to say that there should not be programming. That would be worse than the ineffective model in use right now that does get through to some people. What need to happen is that the CSC needs to take an in depth look at programming and get input from outside agencies and perhaps even inmates to build a model that is more effective in achieving the goal of successful community reintegration.

Do you agree with Donald? Do you think prison programs are ineffective?


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  1. Joe Pineda says:

    I think this relates to the classroom issue of Multiple Intelligences, where each learner has a potential to engaged in very particular ways, either through movement, music, writing, drawing, etc. Not taking the different learning styles into consideration is in itself a representation of that “cookie cutter” model. If these programs are indeed the same way, then I am looking at a reflection of the same issue, that is a program or curriculum that doesn’t take into account the necessities of inmates.

  2. judith says:

    I am not in Canada, but in Colorado, USA. I enjoy reading your thoughts on criminal justice. I also participate in some of the programs that are available to inmates. As a person involved in AA, I find that any number of people are there for drug or alcohol problems- they estimate 85%. those who actually need programs are not allowed to go, but others have to go to meet requirements. Most of the programs are substitutes for actual attempts to change lives. They fill statistical needs, and keep people employed, but do nothing for rehabilitation or reintroduction into life; In my experience here, those with actual problems do no get anything that might be helpful. But, careful training of volunteers reinforces the idea that all prisoners are not normal people, and that they all lie, manipulate, and are unable to change. They are only referred to as offenders, and never as human beings with aspirations or talents or something of value. That is here, and maybe just here, but it does sound as though we share some of the same failings.

  3. Joanne says:

    From what I know about correctional programs, “Donald” is right that something is better than nothing, as research clearly shows that nothing (i.e., plain incarceration) makes recidivism more likely. I also agree that a one size fits all approach is far from ideal. From my point of view, it is the exact opposite of that (i.e., an individualized approach) that is most likely to be beneficial. This new approach to programming at CSC, which is really only a pilot project for the moment run in the Pacific Region, is only aimed at cost reduction and ameliorating recruitment and retention issues.

    It truly hurts me to know that better therapeutic programs are not available, as I have seen first hand the benefits they can have. To “Donald” and others like him who want to work toward positive change, I say, ignore the hurdle jumpers and get what you can from what is offered. There is still good material in those programs it just means that people have to make more of an effort to see its relevance for their own situation.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you for your comments, Joanne. You are so right that men and women in prison are often not treated with respect. I also share your dislike of the word “offender.” We are all offenders. When I am impatient with my wife, something that definitely doesn’t help her, I’m an offender. I will pass on your comments to the inmate who wrote this.

  4. Apart from the nominal character of whatever program(s) are offered, there is the separate hurdle of their implementation. Apparently this suffers from two serious deficiencies: 1) that the program is not implemented in the way that has been designed, but rather in a partial and degraded way, to the extent that the intended outcomes are achieved, if at all, only in a very limited way, and 2) that access is difficult, because of the combination of too few places in them, being on many days completely unavailable due to staff training (rehabilitation, not to mention “fundamental transformation” is not easy, particularly when staff oppose everything at every step) and other meetings, and scheduling programs along with every other thing (12- and 16-step meetings, church, library, recreation, and craft shops) on only a few (maybe 2) evenings per week. Staff have largely convinced themselves that “programs don’t work” in order that their personal convenience is not interfered with by having to do them.

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