Eight months ago, the Douglas County Jail started to address head-on the problem that keeps its cells full: criminal thinking.
As part of a program aimed at keeping criminals from repeating crimes, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office's re-entry program has begun therapy groups designed to change the way inmates behave and make decisions.
Re-entry director Mike Brouwer, who is in charge of working with inmates who are about to be released and re-enter society, has introduced what he calls cognitive behavioral therapy groups. He hopes to restructure inmates’ decision-making and actions. Brouwer and others in the re-entry program will be closely monitoring the jail’s recidivism rate in 2014 — once the groups have been in place for a little more than a year.
“Over a four-year period this program has shown success,” Brouwer said of the re-entry program's having helped to reduce the jail’s recidivism rate by 44 percent from 2008 to 2011, its first four years of existence. “And we weren’t even targeting criminal thinking yet.”
The groups meet twice a week for two to three hours and assign up to three hours of “homework” each week. As part of the groups, inmates are assigned exercises in journal writing that allow them to discuss their thoughts on various reading assignments.
“It helps to give them alternatives to criminal thinking,” said Sherry Gill, one of three re-entry case managers.
This is typically followed by something called moral recognition therapy, where offenders analyze their thinking errors in a group setting.
For those who qualify for case management — Brouwer said about 70 inmates are enrolled — all this is preceded by an assessment that helps case managers and others at the jail better understand and classify offenders based on their risk for criminal conduct and need for a given treatment. Participants answer more than 50 questions in categories that include criminal history, education and employment and alcohol and drug use. A score follows, which assesses the offender's level of risk for further trouble. Gill is currently the only case manager at the jail certified to administer the test. By April, all three case managers and Brouwer are expected to be certified.
Training in a similar vein has meanwhile been administered to jail employees to help them better identify behavior that may suggest future criminal behavior. Among those trained, Brouwer said, are kitchen supervisors, who he said can spend up to 14 hours alongside inmates daily.
“The number of problems in the kitchen is down to almost none,” said Mike Caron, programs director for the sheriff's office. “Problems are being addressed instead of festering.”