A Leg Up
In the first entry of this series I wrote about the ways I spend my time. In this, the second installment I’ll write about rehabilitation opportunities and their effectiveness.
If you’re in prison and have a drug case or if you have a documented drug or alcohol problem and it contributed to your crime, there is the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). This program requires the inmate to reside in a dedicated housing unit that serves about 160, about 8% of the population, inmates at a time. The housing unit, coincidentally, sits directly below my housing unit. I’ll explain the significance of this later.
The RDAP program is 40 weeks long. During this time the inmates are required to attend Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) sessions aimed at changing the way they think about drugs and addiction. When taken seriously CBT is quite effective. The issue is it’s not taken seriously by many of those in the program. The recidivism rate for those that have taken the program is only a few points lower than those who do not go through the program. The recidivism rate for those not attending is roughly 80% at five years verses 72% for those taking the program. So why do inmates go through the program?
To get a year off their sentence.
Yes, if you successfully go through the program you are granted a year off your sentence. This is, of course, envied by those who are not here for a drug related crime. What amazes me is the number of people in the program that continue to use drugs while in the program. As I’ve written before, drugs are readily available and used by many. Those in the RDAP don’t use in their housing unit. Instead they come up to my housing unit and get high with those using drugs in my housing unit. In fact, there are three people in my unit that were ejected from RDAP for using drugs. So getting high was more important than the year off. That’s how addiction is though.
So with a recidivism rate as high as it is, why does the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offer RDAP? Because congress requires it. Even though it is ineffective and churns people out every 40 weeks. The majority of people are not rehabilitated. The majority are in the program solely for the year off. The BOP could save money by simply cutting a year off every drug case.
For sex offenders there’s the Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP). The SOMP program here is non-residential so there’s no dedicated housing. It also does not offer a year off of your sentence if you should participate. It is also a CBT based program. The effectiveness is not known because the recidivism rate for sex offenders is among the lowest of any crime at 3-5% at three years. The SOMP program also serves about 8% of the population.
In researching SOMP prior to coming to prison I couldn’t find anything written by professionals in the psychology field supporting SOMP as a positive, effective, program. I know very few people taking the program that weren’t ordered to do it during sentencing.
Am I doing SOMP? No. Most states require sex offenders to go through a similar program after release from prison and you’re given no credit for having done it during prison. Additionally, part of the therapy is group based where you’re required to talk about your transgressions. I understand the value in group therapy but there’s a problem. What?
You’re encouraged (read that required) to talk about things you didn’t actually do! That leads to new charges. So why do people admit to things they never actually did? Because if you don’t you’re listed as uncooperative and risk being ejected from the program. This in turn causes issues upon release from prison because being ‘uncooperative’ is entered into your record which goes to your parole officer (PO). It’s better to start with a clean slate with your PO.
Finally, most psychologists outside the BOP condemn the SOMP program because it negatively impacts the participants and has no basis in the reasons sex offenders offend to begin with. It does not address root issues but instead tries to alter current thinking. For example, I was sexually abused as a child and that would not be addressed even though there’s a correlation between that abuse and my crime. So no rehabilitation in SOMP either.
Finally, if you have psychological problems there are trained psychologists here. However, by their own admission, their role is to provide stability, not rehabilitation. I see a psychologist once a month for about 6-10 minutes. How on earth am I to gain any help in 6-10 minutes?! Literally, the session goes like this:
PSYCH: “How are things going?”
ME: “Overall, not too bad.”
PSYCH: “Great! Thanks for coming in.”
The above was literally how my last ‘session’ went with the psychologist. So I added:
ME: “Medical increased my Geodon dosage.”
PSYCH: “Okay, from what to what?”
ME: “From 80mg a day to 120mg a day.”
PSYCH: “Thanks for letting me know. Is there anything else?”
ME: “I guess not.”
PSYCH: “See you next month.”
So no real rehabilitation through psychological treatment.
In essence, 84% of the population has no opportunity for RDAP or SOMP and for those of us willing to pursue psychological help we instead receive treatment to keep us stable instead of helping to improve our situation.
Prison is not what Congress or the BOP advertise. It is simply a way to warehouse people for some period of time and from what I can tell, there is no real rehabilitation available anywhere in the system. Their goal is to keep people stable so they’re easy to manage.
Rehabilitation rests in the hands of the inmates. It’s up to the inmate to rehabilitate themselves. I do this through teaching a class, reading a wide range of literature, writing this blog, and participating fully in my faith. And where my crime is concerned, I spent the 15 months prior to my incarceration in intense psychological therapy. I came into prison already rehabilitated because I knew there was little to no chance of true rehabilitation inside.
When you think of prison you have to know that most people go through prison essentially unchanged simply because there’s no real, effective, effort by the BOP to rehabilitate. It’s no wonder the overall recidivism rate is over 80% at five years.
It’s sad really.