Board of Pardons and Paroles
|State of Georgia|
stay crime-free with new thinking patterns
Results-Driven Supervision aims to break the cycle of crime by aggressive intervention in areas tied to reduced recidivism; cognitive skills development is one of four areas most highly correlated to that goal.
Morning sun streams through the glass-fronted, sealed-off lobby of the movie theatre illuminating the long-dormant popcorn machine like a relic on display. Across the vast parking lot lies a huge cemetery with tombstones stretching to the horizon. In this oddly appropriate context of demise a group of parolees meet twice weekly to bury old beliefs and to create new ones that will help them succeed in law-abiding society.
Though the LaGrange Parole office occupies a former movie theater, nothing inside recalls a place of entertainment. Parole officers strapped with semi-automatic pistols buzz in and out of their small offices conducting drug screens, clicking entries into computers, or jangling car keys on their way to field rounds. At the back of the windowless rectangular building where fictional action thrillers were once projected on the wide screen, ten men convicted of real-life, unglamourous escapades are gathered around a table, learning to correct the thinking patterns that led to their criminal behavior.
The parolees are participating in Reasoning and Rehabilitation, a 70-hour course of cognitive skills development, one of the four offender intervention areas comprising Georgia's award-winning model of "Results-Driven Supervision." The other focus areas are job training and employment, substance abuse recovery, and improved education. Research consistently correlates those four factors to successful reintegration of the offender into the community.
"Parolees are usually impulse-driven," says Senior Parole Officer Barry Davis, who leads the LaGrange group. "Through this course they learn to slow down and evaluate situations. When they practice these communication and decision-making techniques at home or work, they start building successes, and realize it's possible to dramatically improve their lives."
Parole officials point out that even with the tough sentences imposed in Georgia, most offenders eventually return to their homes. Those with long criminal histories, substance abuse problems, convictions for serious crimes, or others with well-entrenched patterns of reacting to life instead of directing it, are at risk for relapse during the difficult post-prison transition.
Georgia's results-driven supervision model targets such at-risk offenders for mandated participation in intervention programs, including Reasoning and Rehabilitation. Once selected for the course, parolees can be revoked to prison for missing class. Even with such severe consequences, some may fail to show, such as a parolee in today's LaGrange class, who otherwise was performing well. Davis and other seasoned instructors say that initial sessions often draw out the worst behavior of traditionally skeptical offenders, but by mid-term most class members are eager to learn skills that give them an increasing sense of control over their complex lives.
Community Based Services Director Beth Oxford, who oversees the agency's intervention programs, says that when an at-risk offender begins to process cues from his environment in a more rational way, societal benefits are exponential: "The community is safer because of the parolee's improved self-control and more prosperous by the addition of a contributing member who works, pays taxes, and models law-abiding behavior to his or her children." Criminal justice practitioners agree that family influence plays the most significant role in breaking the generational cycle of crime which is so often documented in offenders' case histories.
Today the LaGrange men are discussing "consequential thinking." At the blackboard with marker in hand, Davis asks the men to list the pros and cons of selling drugs, as well as the intensity of each of those factors. On the plus side are the obvious entries: status and power with a certain population, immediate access to the material world that seems remote otherwise. Under the negative column are what seem to be overriding factors: disappointing family, constant fear of prison or death. Parole officials point out that most offenders are fully aware of the hazards of criminal activity but allow immediate influences or urges to determine their behavior. Parolees often report that while engaged in illegal activity which led to their arrest, they felt stalked by the specter of catastrophe, but were nevertheless stunned when it arrived face to face.
More than 60 Reasoning and Rehabilitation courses have been conducted by Georgia Parole since the program was implemented in 1996. A federally funded independent researcher is tracking participants and control groups for three years after graduation to see if recidivism is reduced as it has been in other states. Results from the first year's graduates will be available later this year.
Director Oxford says that while lowered recidivism is the only result that will ensure the program's continuance, many individual, smaller successes, hard to measure statistically, are monumental to offenders whose lives operate like cars without brakes, stopped only by brick -- usually prison-- walls.
"Sometimes parolees in these classes will react in their old patterns," she says, "walking off the job from some perceived insult or breaking other technical parole violations, but they recover by using techniques they studied. Before the training, they would give up and keep heading down that road, like someone who blows an entire diet because they ate too much at one meal."
Cognitive skills training lays the groundwork for additional intervention with the at-risk parolee, Director Oxford points out. "Many parolees targeted for this course also have drug or alcohol problems or poor job skills due to long confinements. Programs addressing those and other areas are more successful when the parolee has a skills set that allows him to see options and achieve self-imposed goals."
A LaGrange class member who began
practicing the new communication and decision-making techniques in his
daily life expressed his amazement to Davis: "I'm surrounded by
people I've never been around before," he said. "It's like there
really is a light at the end of the tunnel."
For further information please contact:
Director, Community Based
Senior Parole Officer Barry Davis leads the cognitive skills training course for LaGrange-area parolees. To maintain a complete overview of their progress, he supervises class participants on his regular parolee caseload for the duration of the course.
Parolees considered at risk for parole revocation are mandated to attend the 70-hour interactive training where they learn new ways to communicate and evaluate life situations. Parolees selected for the course are often intelligent and creative and, fortified with new thinking patterns, may attain immediate rewards on their jobs or in family relationships. Such successes are an antidote to criminal behavior, Parole officials say.
Davis visits Tryone, a graduate of the program who is now an avid supporter of the training. "I was seldom out of prison more than three or four months before I'd get in trouble," he says. "I wish I'd had this training 20 years ago." Like other serious offenders, his progress has been incremental with occasional setbacks rather than a radical transformation
"I see how easily I got into trouble by just not taking care of things, just not acting like an adult," Tyrone says. "Not long ago my father died and I knew he had a gun for protection. I got rid of it. Before, I don't think I would have thought about the possibility of getting in trouble because his gun was left in the house, but now it seems obvious."
Parolees in cognitive skills training frequently report improved relationships with employers, friends, and family. Tyrone is now married to a woman with whom he can discuss problems and decisions. "I don't want to lose her by going back to prison," he says. Above, he shows off presents he plans to give her on Valentine's Day.
Officer Davis congratulates Tryone for the responsible way he conducted himself during a recent police burglary investigation in his neighborhood. Rather than intensifying police suspicions by "laying low," Tyrone called local authorities and gave an account of his activities. "They know my record, so I was afraid they wouldn't believe me. I called them on Saturday and they asked me to come down on Sunday. That was one scary, sleepless night, but I knew I had to go. They thanked me and later arrested the guy that did it." When parolees exchange reactive behavior for thoughtful decision-based behavior, Parole officials say they are on the road to a crime-free lifestyle — a primary goal of Results-Driven Supervision.