February 12th, 2007

Prison: What Would a Practical System Look Like?

Hint: It ain’t what we’ve got right now.

It’s not news to most people that our prison system is broken – systems, really, because we have three kinds. There’s the nationwide federal system, the variety of state systems, and the even wider variety of city and county jails.

Anyway, the whole mess is typically called the correctional system. That name implies that its function is to correct, i.e. to turn criminals into law-abiding citizens. Systems theory says that name is wrong.

Systems theory is the management discipline that drove the transformation of the Japanese auto industry and changed the meaning of “made in Japan” from “cheap, low-quality piece of crap” to “well-designed, well-built, and constantly improving,” that led to Toyota selling more vehicles in the good old U.S.A. than any other company (and just skip any rants about buying American – the so-called imports are assembled both in this country and abroad, of parts made both in this country and abroad; the so-called American-made cars are – you got it – assembled both in this country and abroad, of parts made both in this country and abroad. Back when Lee Iacocca was talking up buying American, some of his company’s cars actually had a higher ratio of foreign-made parts than some of their Japanese competitors. So what’s the dif? Where their corporate HQs are. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Anyway, systems theory, which got its big boost as a management tool from Dr. Edward Deming after World War II, says among other things that every system from a national government down to a Mom-and-Pop business, from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to a can opener, is perfectly designed to produce exactly the result it produces. If you want a different outcome, you have to change the system. We tend to blame the people in the system, fire them, then wonder why the next set of people in the same jobs produce the same unsatisfactory results. Dr. Deming – a statistician by training – used some pretty intensive analysis to find that just about 95% of the time, the people in the system want to do a good job and are doing the best they know how to do with what they have to work with, and the problem is the system, not them.

I used this as a manager in various settings ranging from running an IT tech support shop, to managing a substance abuse counseling center, to working for the state health department managing contracts with county and tribal health councils. I taught it as a trainer in the Marine Corps and for the Health Department. It works.

Example: my boss at the Health Department got ordered to do something – anything – to lower the high rate of repeat DWI offenses in one of our northern counties. She looked at the data on DWI enforcement from around the country and found that, contrary to what many assume, a higher probability of getting caught and punished is more of a deterrent than a harsher penalty. She then looked at the problems the city and state police and sheriff’s department were having there with enforcement, and found that DWI arrests dropped off in May and June every year – because the state budget cycle starts its fiscal year on July 1, and every year the funds for officer overtime were used up by the last part of the fiscal year. She found that officers weren’t able to use arrest videos in court, because someone had stolen the VCR and TV from the courthouse and they’d never been replaced! A third thing she learned was that participation in rehab drastically lowered the odds of reoffending, but most of the people the judges ordered to rehab never made it there; of those who actually contacted the rehab agencies and scheduled intakes, most showed up, got assessed and went through treatment, but the majority never even called the agencies.

So – she gave part of the funding to the law enforcement agencies for overtime at the end of the fiscal year, with the stipulation that the overtime had to be used for DWI checkpoints and patrols; she used part to buy the courthouse a new VCR and TV and some security hardware so they wouldn’t get stolen; and she used part to pay for a scheduling clerk to sit right in each courtroom so that when the judges ordered people to rehab, their intake appointments were made before they left the courtrooms. How did it work? Voila! The repeat DWI rate dropped by more than half. Mission accomplished.

Back to prison. My experience with this system consists of having worked as a psychotherapist in two different state prisons and taught at the state corrections academy. Here’s my take, based on that experience:

Both in prison and out, there are people who are just plain predators. They seem to lack empathy or conscience, don’t learn from experience, and care only about getting what they want and not getting caught. They couldn’t care less about hurting others, or in some cases even enjoy it for the sense of power it gives them. These people seem to be unfixable by any method we have. They really need to be kept locked up for the rest of their lives for the safety of the people they will victimize if they are free to do so. But even in prison, they are a small minority. Many more inmates are pretty much like the rest of us, and want to live lives like the rest of us. A functional prison system would separate these two categories – keep the wolves safely contained, and turn the rest back to society when their time was done better equipped to be law-abiding, tax-paying, productive citizens.

What result does our current system produce? On average, people coming out of prison are less capable of succeeding in a non-criminal lifestyle, not more so. They end up reoffending and going back to prison at a very high rate. Across America, the number of felons released from prison who end up going back is actually higher than the number who manage to stay free. And we know that not every crime leads to arrest and punishment, so the number who actually stop committing crimes is even smaller than the number who stay out of prison.

So our current system is currently perfectly designed to produce a revolving-door effect in which once a person goes to prison, he or she is more likely than not to return. America currently has a higher percentage of its population locked up, on probation, or on parole than any other industrialized country. We’re doing some job of correcting criminal lifestyles, folks.

What are conditions like in prison? Scary, dangerous, dirty, and boring. A lot of people, even those who otherwise would consider themselves as enlightened, compassionate, even – gasp – liberal, say, good deal, prison should be unpleasant so people don’t want to go back. They note that inmates are fed and housed and given medical care and see anything beyond that as coddling – it’s not unusual to hear people make idiotic comments to the effect that if inmates have TV and recreational equipment, it makes prison a place people would enjoy. Although oddly enough, I never hear people asking to be sent there.

The arguments for a harsh prison system, when you really look at them, all boil down to a desire for a system of vengeance, not corrections. Okay, but if that’s what we want, we should quit being hypocrites and talking about corrections, and we should quit pretending we want to reduce crime, because that’s not how it’s working.

Nearly all inmates get out of prison, so if prison makes people more likely to reoffend, the prison system we have now may actually be increasing our crime rate, not lowering it. What are the alternatives? The idea of just locking people up for life for any felony is wrong and crazy, both because in most cases that would be a consequence totally out of proportion to the offense committed, and because keeping people in prison costs us more than the crimes they would probably be committing if they were free. Cost varies from system to system and within systems, based on level of security needed and a bunch of other factors, but even for relatively low-cost inmates it would be cheaper to send them to an Ivy-League university for the time they’re in. Prison is a very expensive system in terms of both physical infrastructure and staffing.

What other results is this system perfectly designed to produce, beyond feeding a popular hunger to get even with these people who have hurt us directly by making us their victims or indirectly by making us fearful? Well, “follow the money” is usually a good guide. In this case, the money leads to an industry that rakes in huge profits in three ways. First, a lot of our prisons are for-profit private enterprises; they get contracts to house inmates by being the lowest bidders, then cut costs every way they can to maximize their bottom lines. They understaff their facilities, cut corners on security, use poorly trained and underpaid staff, provide inadequate medical care, and feed inmates diets that are unhealthy in both quantity and quality. Second, both public and private prisons use inmates as nearly-free forced labor to produce products they then sell for huge profits – furniture, clothing, and so on. An inmate who makes 75 cents an hour is doing better than average. Third, they have a monopoly on things the inmates can use their big wages to buy, like sweatsuits to wear in cellblocks where the temperatures may never get over 6o degrees in the cold parts of the year, Ramen soups and other food to supplement the crappy diet, and phone cards so they can stay in contact with their families. They often charge the inmates twice or more what those items would cost on the outside, again making a huge profit margin.

Of course, they invest some of their profits in paying lobbyists to work the legislatures to make sure no one interferes with their cash cow.

As for turning people into law-abiding citizens: again, a majority, even if it’s not 95% in this case, want to live normal lives, but have not managed to do so given what they know and what they have to work with. Some specifics:

The average level of education of inmates is low. If prisons were serious about correcting that, they’d make it as hard to get out of prison without at least getting a GED, and preferably some formal, recognized trade training or college, as it is to avoid working in the furniture factory. In most “correctional” systems, education gets lip service but is not seriously pushed as a priority. How many teachers do they hire? How many classroom seats do they offer? What options beyond GED completion, if they offer that, are there? Not nearly enough.

A second, less formal educational deficit is in life skills. The basics like how to get a job and keep it, how to manage a monthly budget, the kind of people skills it takes to get along with a partner, a family, or coworkers, to resolve conflicts, to anticipate consequences, to manage impulses and anger and fear. Things that if you have them, you probably learned from your parents, and that you just take for granted as much as you do being able to read. If a person doesn’t have those skills, that person will have one hell of a time staying out of trouble, though he or she usually wants to. But they aren’t instinctive – we have to learn them – and we don’t learn them in school. If our parents or whoever else raises us doesn’t have those skills, we don’t get the chance to learn them. The good news is that these skills are readily learnable for adults, and once learned they help people lead successful lives. The bad news is that our prisons do very little to teach these things either. In fact, because the easiest kind of inmate to manage is one who is passive, goes where he/she is told to go and does what he/she is told to do, no more and no less, some of the skills of living independently that we need to function – assertiveness as opposed to aggressiveness, initiative, things like that – are actually seen as problems by prison staff, who are just trying to make it through their shifts unhurt to go home for another day, and are actively discouraged and persecuted. An assertive, proactive inmate who tries to take some control of the direction of his or her own life is often seen as a management problem to be broken.

The majority of people in prison are there because they committed drug-related crimes, or they have drug habits that make it very difficult to function normally and stay out of trouble. Again, very few people who are addicted are happy about it – most would rather be clean and sober. And again, getting some external help greatly increases a person’s chances of getting clean and sober and staying that way.

Prisons do nothing about the drug problem. The drugs themselves are more readily available, of higher quality, and cheaper in prison than on the street (except for, ironically, tobacco – legal on the street but banned in many prison systems, a pack of cigarettes that may cost roughly four to seven dollars at your corner 7-11 is worth about a hundred times that much in many prisons. Like national prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, this has reduced consumption somewhat but at the cost of creating a huge revenue stream for organized crime and criminalizing a behavior instead of helping people overcome it.)

One way to eliminate a lot of drug-related crime would be to decriminalize possession and use of some drugs, but that too is another debate for another day. But even given the current legal status of drugs, an overwhelming amount of experience has shown that the most effective way to reduce drug use is through effective treatment, not punishment. The feds did a study in California some years ago and found that every dollar invested in treatment programs saved the government seven dollars in law enforcement and corrections expenses. Further, another study showed that every dollar spent on youth substance abuse prevention programs based on proven models (not DARE, which turns out to have no effect on rates of adult drug use) saves five dollars in treatment funds later on.

How does this work out in prison? Well, when we look at the rates at which people succeed or fail at staying out of trouble after release, we see a startling difference. Any form of treatment while a person is locked up more than doubles his or her chances of avoiding rearrest and reincarceration; intensive treatment, the in-prison equivalent of an inpatient rehab program, flips the numbers so that those who stay out of trouble outnumber those who go back to prison by about two to one.

So we must be pushing treatment as hard as we can in our prisons and jails, right? Nope. Not available at all in a lot of places, and where it does exist it’s often lip service rather than substantial treatment, with a waiting list for that lip service. The large majority of inmates do their time and get out having gotten no counseling of any kind, and the number who get the intensive treatment they could nearly all use (and which, with them already in prison, adds very little to the costs we’re already paying to keep them there) is minimal. Again, take a look at how many addiction treatment people they hire and how many treatment beds they provide. Damn few.

Finally, we have the questions of individual responsibility versus the role of society and the environment, and of proactive prevention versus reactive punishment.

I am a very strong advocate of the doctrine that each of us is responsible and accountable for our own behavior. However! That comes with an important caveat: we can only be responsible for doing what we’re capable of doing. So as part of holding people responsible for obeying the law and being productive citizens, we need to look at what we do to make sure they can, and at what is going on that may compromise that ability. To punish someone for failing to do something he or she wasn’t able to do is just cruel and stupid.

What kind of environment do most of our prison inmates come from? A very high percentage come from backgrounds in which they were severely traumatized as children and deprived of some basic things that we need to grow up into functional adults, again things that most of us take for granted. Things like safety, the presence of competent and nurturing adults, and adequate nutrition.

A growing body of research shows that when a child is the victim or witness of significant violence, it actually causes physical changes in the way that child’s brain develops from that point on. In particular, a child who is exposed to serious violence in the family or neighborhood will grow up with a brain that is overdeveloped in the areas that govern basic survival-level responses to danger – the fight-or-flight responses – and underdeveloped in the areas that govern reasoning, impulse control, and higher life skills.

To that you can often add differences in brain development caused by maternal drinking and other drug use during pregnancy; maternal malnutrition during pregnancy and poor diet during childhood; environmental contaminants like lead from flaking paint in old buildings; and plain old damage from getting hit on the head.

We’re talking about differences so gross that you could see them with the naked eye if two brains, one traumatized in childhood and one not, were sitting side-by-side in front of you.

The result is a person who, to a greater or lesser degree, is less capable of telling a threat from a harmless situation, is less capable of controlling impulses, and is less capable of thinking and problem-solving.

To demand that a person whose brain development has been altered function in the same way as someone whose hasn’t, in the areas controlled by the parts of the brain that got screwed up, makes no more sense that to demand that a person with polio get up and run a 50-yard dash at the same speed as someone with a healthy body. You can demand it all day long, but no matter how hard that person tries it won’t happen.

The good news, here, is that the brain is highly adaptable, and some of this missing stuff can be made up in adulthood, with the right kind of help. Again, with the right kind of help. “Just do it” and “Just say no” don’t work. They’ve never worked. They never will work.

At this point a lot of people offer the argument, “But a lot of people come from environments like that and don’t turn out to be criminals, so that’s no excuse.” Flawed argument, and here’s why. I agree, it doesn’t excuse anything, but it does strongly affect it. It’s like the drunk who says, “I can’t be an alcoholic, because a lot of the time when I drink nothing bad happens.” Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one. The response is, “Yeah, but of the times you have gotten in trouble, how many of them were you drinking and how many were you sober?” The truth is that even though drinking doesn’t always cause an immediate problem for a drunk, it drastically changes the odds. Same here – messing with brain development, environmental trauma, and role modeling don’t always produce socially incompetent and criminal behavior, but they drastically change the odds. Occasionally someone will overcome polio and run that 50-yard dash, but that’s not the way to bet.

Again, these things are questions of degree. None of us come from totally healthy, functional environments, and none of us come from backgrounds without a single positive feature. But the differences can be shocking.

An example, one of the guys I worked with in the prison system until a bit less than a year ago: this is a man in his early 30s who has been locked up on and off since he was a teenager. He is an alcoholic and addict. His criminal history consists mostly of stealing things to pay for drugs, but while in prison he has been involved in some gang violence.

His mother is an active alcoholic and addict (there is a strong genetic element in alcoholism – an alcoholic mother’s children are twice as likely to become alcoholics themselves, even if adopted at birth and never exposed to her drinking). Throughout his childhood she had a series of boyfriends, most of whom were also alcoholics and addicts and beat her up regularly. My client himself was routinely underfed, beaten unconscious, sodomized, and burned with cigarettes. Finally, when he was 11, his mother’s then-boyfriend got angry about something and beat the boy about the head and upper body with a shovel until they thought he was dead. They left him in a dumpster, where someone found him a few days later, still unconscious, with maggots crawling in his wounds. From there he went into the foster care system, where he was neglected and abused off and on for the rest of his childhood and adolescence.

So what kind of person does this produce, and what do we expect from him?

He’s got heavy-duty posttraumatic stress disorder. Big surprise. He’s never been able to have a successful relationship or hold a job for long. He has problems with depression, becoming suicidal at times, and has injured himself badly enough that he nearly bled to death several times in the last decade.

So do we tell this guy, “Suck it up!” and expect him to function as if he’d grown up safe, well-fed, and given reasonable role models?

In his book The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck wrote that as a psychiatrist, one of the greatest mysteries he encountered was not how people got as screwed up as they were, but how they functioned as well as they did given their backgrounds. The man I’m talking about falls into that category.

Despite the deprivations and injuries, he’s a highly intelligent, very alert, very curious and thoughtful person. He has read a lot of history and pays a lot of attention to current events (if inmates had Internet access, he’d be a good candidate for a regular contributor to BIO!)

After years of working through a lot of anger, he forgave his mother and reestablished contact with her. He knows he has to stay away from her because she’s still drinking and using, but he worries about her and wishes her well.

Despite having no healthy adults to form attachments to or learn from, he’s somehow developed a philosophical attitude that enables him to tolerate stresses that would wreck a lot of us and even to joke about them – a sense of humor is one of the most healthy and highly developed psychological coping mechanisms, and he uses it. He has a strongly developed conscience – he left the prison gang, at considerable risk to his own life, because he couldn’t stomach things they did, and although he stands ready to defend himself he does not get in fights or confrontations with fellow inmates (one look is enough to get most people to back off) or staff. He follows the rules; during the entire time I worked with him, he never got written up.

He takes responsibility for his addiction and his actions and is actively involved in A.A. in the prison, and is seeking a good A.A. group and sponsor for when he gets out of prison soon; he knows his freedom will depend on staying clean and sober. He’s been working hard in a program learning carpentry and machinist skills so he can get a reasonable job.

So with this knowledge about the effects of prenatal and childhood events, our society and our prisons must be working at trying to provide the kind of help people need to overcome obstacles put in their paths by the impact of early life events, right? Nope. Not even thinking about it. For that matter, a lot of the staff in any prison come from similar backgrounds.

That brings me to my final point (yes, I’ll shut up soon.) For the majority of Americans who vote “tough on crime,” this requires a belief system that criminals are not like us. Au contraire, my friends.

In the different programs I worked in, in two prisons, we had outsiders come in on a fairly frequent basis – an art teacher who taught a group of women inmates ceramics, nurses working in the medical unit, interns in various grad school programs. They always – every time – had the same reaction after meeting a bunch of inmates; “But they’re so normal!” “They’re just like everyone else!” “If I was next to them in line at the supermarket, I’d never know.” And they come away with a changed attitude about the judgments we tend to pass.

When I left that job, I held a final session in the PTSD treatment group I was facilitating, and I told the men in that group that I was humbled by the strength they showed in having survived the things they’d survived and still being positive, still trying to grow and get better instead of being bitter and self-pitying. I told them that I admired and respected them and felt honored by having had the chance to get to know them. I meant every word, and I will always feel that way.

To those who dismiss people in prison and are supportive of, or indifferent to, abuse and neglect in the prison system because “they deserve it,” I would offer the thought that if you had been in their shoes, lived their lives, you might easily be right where they are. We aren’t better, they aren’t worse. More often than not, luck plays a bigger role than anything else.

And to come back to where we started, we need to decide what result we want, then change the system to one that produces that result:

If we want to reduce the number of people who go to prison, we need to reduce the damaging factors in the lives of so many children that point them in that direction, and be proactive in trying to correct for them where they’ve already happened; we need to re-examine the laws that send people to prison and see which ones make sense and which don’t; we need to decide whether we really want to see people straighten out or to get even with them, and walk our talk.

If we want to reduce crime and reduce the huge drain on our economy that the prison system in its current form is, we need to invest more in the things that have been proven by cold hard numbers to reduce those things, i.e. effective youth substance abuse prevention programs and effective addiction treatment programs for adolescents and adults. They more than pay for themselves in multiple ways.

If we want something that is really a system of corrections rather than a system of organized vengeance, we need to look around the world at what’s working and emulate it.

If we want to live up to the spiritual values our leaders talk about so much, whether Christian or other, we need to shift from judgment toward empathy, from punishment toward healing, from vengeance toward acceptance and forgiveness.

Again, there are people who are true predators, apparently beyond redemption through any means available to us, who need to be kept locked up for the rest of their lives for the safety of the rest of us. But even in prison, they are a small minority. We would serve ourselves and our stated principles much better by recognizing that and treating the rest differently.

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Posted in General, Politics, Current Affairs, Education, Economics, Miscellaneous, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Budget, Health, Legal News



11 Comment(s)

Leave a response »

  1. The Two Malcontents » Prison: What Would A Practical System Look Like? Says :

    […] Via Bring It On!: […]


  2. Jersey McJones Says :

    Great post.  Love it.  It seems so plain to me…

    1 - rip out the weight rooms and replace them with classrooms

    2 - seperate the predators from the prey

    3 - decriminalize victimless crime

    4 - institute fair sentencing parameters

    5 - deprivatize all penal institutions

    6 - remove all mentally ill inmates and put them in mental hospitals where they belong

    7 - switch from pure punishment to rehabilitation for all non-life/death sentence inmates

    8 - institute complete order even if it requires qualdrupling guards

    9 - ban prison labor for private profits and pay prisoners the going wage for any work done

    10 - close the white collar “prison farms” and move the inmates into the regular system

    It’s a shame that Americans are too stupid and vindictive to get any of this.

    JMJ 


  3. brad Says :

    great post, i agree completely with the drive most people have for vengeance as opposed to true “correction.” The death penalty is the most severe example of this and I have been speaking out against it for years. 

    I was curious if you could source where you found:

    ” A growing body of research shows that when a child is the victim or witness of significant violence, it actually causes physical changes in the way that child’s brain develops from that point on. ”


  4. Jersey McJones Says :

    Not to step ahead of LJ, but here’s a good ref from the NIH, Brad.

    JMJ


  5. Lazy Iguana Says :

    I think we also need to factor in society itself here. What is important to people? What is important to people who are raised on the bottom fringe (income wise)?

    New cars, rims, designer clothing, expensive watches - and all the other stuff that says “success”. Just watch ANY hip-hop video. What do you see? People living a lifestyle that you would have to make a whole lot of money to afford.

    Now lets say you are born into the lower class. You have to do all your shopping at the thrift store. It is rare for you to get new stuff. Do you:

    A - do well in school, go to college, get a job that pays $30,000 - $35,000 a year (starting), work hard for 10 or 15 years, and THEN buy the new Escalade with the spinning rims?

    B - quit school because you can make more money on the streets. Sell drugs. Get that fat wad of cash TODAY - not 10 years from now.

    Now for myself, with my middle working class background, option A seems like a good plan to me. But this is the slow road to rims that spin. The reality is that even with my college degree, I could make far more in a day selling crank on the streets than I could going to a full time job. Hell, I could make as much in one day selling drugs on the street as I can make in two weeks working a full time job.

    But for me, jail IS a deterrent. I do not really want to go there.


  6. Sir Doon Says :

    Well said, and true.

     
     


  7. Liberal Jarhead Says :

    Brad,

    I got the info from the book titled Children in a Violent Society, edited by Joy Orsofsky, which is a collection of research articles on the various effects on children of exposure to violence in their families, neighborhoods, the media, and so on.


  8. Liberal Jarhead Says :

    Iguana,

    I’m with you - incarceration has always been a big deterrent for me, even more so after working in a couple of prisons.  However, for a lot of the teenagers I worked with in another job, it was simply an inevitable part of their future (every adult male in their families had been there), or even an educational and status-building rite of passage to look forward to.  Used to make me want to bang my head against a wall, trying to persuade them that it really wasn’t either of those things.


  9. stdyofman Says :

    I think your article is right on the mark, one other thing that needs to be adressed is the way society itself almost guarantees that released prisoners will reoffend.  some examples: Felons in some states are barred from employment, social services and financial aid for schooling.  Now I ask, how a person who has supposedly paid their debt to society is supposed to become a responsible member of society when all avenues to legitimate ways of supporting themselves have been closed forever due to their ex-con status?  In states who have banned ex-cons from social services such as food stamps, and their past felony convictions also legally bars them from working at most jobs how are they supposed to live?  In my opinion this is cruel and is punishing them twice for criminal behavior. 

     


  10. Bronwen Says :

    I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve heard that your average street hustling dealer makes less than minimum wage.  The guys on the corner are the end of the chain and the profit margin there is small.  It is very heirarchal and the ones making the big money are of course the top 1 percent, much like any organization.  So, why take the risk?  Most of those dealers all believe that one day they will graduate to King Pin, which of course is extremely unlikely, odds might be comparable to all those American Idol hopefuls. It would make sense, this is true of other black market trades ie. a street corner prostitute vs. a high-paid call girl. (although, when her looks are gone… well, let’s just hope she invested.)  If you factor in someone who may be sampling their own wares the chances for productivity and opportunity start declining exponentially.

    I thought it was a wonderful post and touched on so much more than just our present ‘corrections’ system.  I work with some of these traumatized children and I could not agree more w/the sentiment that the question is, given their background, how are they maintaining as well as they are?  Life skills are essential.  Many of our kids are in school because they know there they will be getting at least one square meal a day.  But higher learning is secondary when your focus is survival.  The comfort provided by a gang seems attractive given the alternatives.  Dad will think twice about beating your ass now…


  11. Liberal Jarhead Says :

    Bronwen, there’s a pretty good explanation of the view that the typical petty criminal makes bupkus in the book Freakonomics.  Sounds as if that may be where you got your info.  Great book anyway - I’d recommend it to anyone.  On the point about life skills, one fairly strong example: years back, in Arizona, I facilitated an IOP (intensive outpatient) addiction treatment program.  Most of our clients were involuntary referrals from the courts or the probation/parole people; they knew that they had to succeed in our program to avoid going to jail or prison, or back to jail or prison.  We had a decent success rate, and when we surveyed folks who had succeeded in staying clean and sober and out of trouble and asked them what part of the program was the most valuable to them, they said it was the psychoeducational group on communication skills.  The reason?  The most common reason for relapse is relationship trouble, and the most common reason for relationship trouble is poor communication skills.

    Brad, cool news in today’s Albuquerque Tribune - in my state’s legislature (New Mexico), the House just passed a bill ending the death penalty.  Don’t know whether it will make it through our Senate, though, or whether the Guv (Bill Richardson) will sign it if it makes it to his desk.  He’s on his second term and ran as pro-death-penalty both times, but he always has a moistened fingertip in the air and has reversed himself more than once.

    This state has executed one person in the last couple of decades, in 1999 I think it was.  I was working for Corrections at the time and knew the therapist who had worked with the man they executed for years… it devastated her, she ended up leaving Corrections and I heard she’d even left the counseling profession.



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