Nov 8, 2010

Corrections Counselors, Parole Officers, and Community Based Organizations Unite for Reentry Skills Training in Brooklyn, NY

Late last month, on October 25 & 26, 2010, two of the Harlem Community Justice Center's Reentry Case Managers and I had the privilege of attending the New York State Reentry Skills Training, organized by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Department of Correctional Services, and the Division of Parole in coorperation with the Kings County District Attorney's Office. The training focused on implementing evidence based practices (practices supported by research that are proven to reduce criminality and recidivsm!) in correctional agencies, parole, and community-based organizations.
The skills taught during the trainings brought to life many of the principles embraced in the National Institute of Corrections's Transition from Prison to the Community Model (TPC model). In 2004, New York was one of eight states invited to participate in the NIC's Transition from Prison to the Community Initiative. Chaired by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, a multi-agency Statewide Offender Reentry Task Force was organized to implement the TPC model of reentry in New York. According to DCJS, The NewYork TPC model "represents an ideal reentry system in New York State that has fully implemented each of the TPC model and evidence based proactices. The model weaves together each of New York's myriad reentry projects adn initiatives intoa single, coordinated system of reentry and will serve as a blueprint for all future efforts."

The eight principles of effective reentry that are in New York's TPC model can be found here.

While there were two tracks of training at the conference, the Reentry Case Managers and I attended the Motivational Interviewing (MI) track along with New York State Parole Officers and Corrections Counselors from various New York State Prisons. We had the opportunity to train with two engaging and dynamic doctors, Dr. Fader and Dr. Cole, both of whom have been practicing motivational interviewing for decades. Motivational Interviewing is defined as "a collaborative conversation to strengthen a person's own motivation for and a commitment to change." Motivation Interviewing has been proven to be an effective intervention with offenders. The Core MI Attitudes of MI, as described on Dr. Fader's website and training, can be described as:

• Evocation (Ideas for change should come from the individual)
• Collaboration (Counslor and client are equals)
• Respect for Autonomy (The client has the right to change or not to change)

The guiding principals of Motivation Interventions are: Feedback on personal risks, taking personal responsibility for changing, advice to change when appropriate, helping create a menu of options for change when asked for , relaying empathy, eliciting a sense of self efficacy.

At the beginning of the training, the trainees in my group expressed very different approaches towards their work with inmates or parolees. One Corrections Counselor remarked that she gets so frustrated with the inmates that she works at that she tells them to, "Just change!" Dr. Cole asked her jokingly if that strategy would work with her. She laughed and indicated that it would not, but remained unconvinced that MI was an approach she would take inside a prison. Others expressed that MI seemed like a "social work" approach and wouldn't work with inmates or parolees, either due to the attitude of the inmate or security risks. One parole officer expressed how difficult it would be to use MI with parolees who were legally required to abide by certain conditions and failing to do so ("Why am I going to ask a parolee how he/she feels about a condition of their parole when the bottom line is they have to do it?") Others indicated that they already use MI principles in their work and had formed alliances with inmates/parolees as a result.

After two intensive days of practicing MI techniques, (Dr. Fader even brought in an actor to role play as a parolee) and vibrant, emotional discussions around "what works" with incarcerated or formerly incarcerated populations, there was one thing everyone agreed on--even if they would need to adapt MI to the setting they worked with, there were aspects of the practice would prove helpful in guiding their clients towards change. Although I have attended Motivation Interviewing training before, this training blew the others out of the water! As a Task Force that fully embraces the use of MI, the Reentry Case Managers and I were eager to return to work to practice our MI skills.