DEDHAM — Fall is the time of year when many people shift their focus back to education. Elementary school teachers traditionally emphasize the basics: the three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic.
In the field of corrections, when it comes to the basics, we’re concerned year-round with our own three R’s: Responsibility, Reentry and Recidivism.
At the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office, we believe that teaching responsibility through our varied reentry programs is the key to reducing recidivism, the fancy term for inmates continuing to commit crimes after finishing their jail sentence.
We believe the philosophy of inmate reentry – a series of programs designed to challenge inmates to address their anti-social behavior and other deficiencies in order to reduce their likelihood of reoffending – is the best way to reduce crime.
At the Norfolk County Correctional Center, reentry starts the day an inmate walks in the door. Using an objective assessment tool, we immediately determine his risk of reoffending.
Next, we gather background data -- including criminal record, education and employment history, alcohol/drug problems, companions, family status and attitudes. We enter that data into a second assessment tool to find out which problems the inmate needs to confront and tackle.
Through a variety of educational programs, we emphasize that it’s time for the inmate to take responsibility for his criminal actions. If the inmate does not change his thinking, he’s not going to change his life. If he doesn’t address his behavior issues, he’s bound to return to jail.
Approximately 85 percent of our inmates come to us with drug and alcohol problems. Our substance abuse education gives them the opportunity to effectively deal with those problems. Anger management and domestic violence education points out how their failure to control their emotions leads to their criminal actions.
Courses on compulsive behavior, such as excessive gambling or reckless driving, are designed to make them understand why they act the way they do and how to change their anti-social behavior.
We also carry the more traditional educational programs such as vocational training in culinary arts, HVAC and landscaping, and fundamental classroom courses in adult basic education and GED (high school equivalency diploma) study courses.
This tends to eliminate employment barriers and inmate excuses about not being able to find work because they don’t have a high school diploma or job skills.
We believe the traditional classes are complements to our behavior education programs when it comes to stemming the tide of criminal conduct. The U.S. Department of Justice feels we’re on the right track, and made us one of 13 correctional agencies throughout the nation to receive a Second Chance Act grant to fund these behavior education classes.
In addition, we have entered into an agreement with Northeastern University to help us measure which programs work best and which need to be adjusted.
Even with a new curriculum centered around inmate behavior issues, the key to success will always be making inmates understand and accept responsibility for their actions. Otherwise, the choices are bleak: More crime. More prisons. More taxpayer dollars wasted.
Instead, just as they do in elementary school, we need to focus on the three R’s. It’s the only way we in the corrections field can reach the head of the class.