Can corrections heal: Reducing Recidivism and Increasing Public Safety in Virginia.

Author:Richeson Scott

When discussing recidivism reduction plans within U.S. correctional agencies, many ideas surface. Some ideas are tried and true; some are progressive and cutting edge; some are recycled and restructured; but all are hopeful. In 2010, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) began thoroughly examining its security measures, programs, human resources and their combined effectiveness in reducing recidivism. Instead of focusing solely upon what resources could be attained from secondary and tertiary sources, internally reconstructing the culture of the entire organization became a main focus of VADOC's mission.

Starting with Robert Martinson's 1974 article, "What Works, Questions and Answers about Prison Reform," the "nothing works" doctrine was accepted by many states and became embedded in corrections policy. (1) For decades, corrections systems reflected this paradigm in "command and control" policies where emphasis on effective programs for offender rehabilitation and reentry was lacking. This thinking was not only apparent in corrections systems, but was also reflected in a public that had started to view offenders as inherently malicious beings who were incapable of reform. (2) Emblematic of this view was a particularly striking quote by James Q. Wilson--a notable figure in public administration. Wilson stated, "Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people." (3)

During this time, a primary focus of VADOC was immediate housing and "command and control" measures. while treatment and programming were secondary. The standard treatments available to most of the inmates typically included several classes of a rehabilitative nature with little to no measurability, academic courses, vocational training or substance abuse therapies. Though temporarily effective, none achieved the long-term results required as prison populations and communities were faced with the challenges of the offenders' release. Treatment had been remiss in not including components that furnished a holistic change in correctional culture. A full and multi-angled approach to assisting one's return into society as a law abiding and productive citizen needed to be provided.

This started with an introduction of a new corrections paradigm. The paradigm focused on the principles of effective correctional treatment by determining risk classification, criminogenic needs and responsivity through cognitive-behavioral approaches. It placed the emphasis, once again, on creation of long-term public safety through offender change. While VADOC quickly moved to design and implement policies that reflected evidence-based practices (EBPs), it became apparent that a sweeping organizational culture change was necessary. In 2010, VADOC began efforts to shift the department's culture in multiple ways. Consideration was given to how VADOC culture was viewed and experienced by corrections professionals; how it was assessed by external entities and the general public; and how care was dispensed to and received by the populations it served. This was no small feat considering Virginia's vast geographical differences, socio-economic inequalities...

To continue reading