Justice Today

Meeting People Where They Are to Improve Institutional Culture

August 23, 2023 National Institute of Justice Season 2 Episode 13
Meeting People Where They Are to Improve Institutional Culture
Justice Today
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Justice Today
Meeting People Where They Are to Improve Institutional Culture
Aug 23, 2023 Season 2 Episode 13
National Institute of Justice

Incarcerated individuals deserve opportunities for healing and growth, but they often lack the necessary resources for such opportunities. Additionally, organizational cultures that don’t support these outcomes often stand in the way. Researchers and practitioners gathered at NIJ’s 2023 National Research Conference to share ideas and projects that will increase opportunities for incarcerated populations around the country. This show continues their conversation. 

Angel Sanchez, a visiting fellow with the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the Department of Justice, hosts this discussion with three guests: Dr. Stephen J. Tripodi, an associate professor at Florida State University’s College of Social Work and a faculty director at the Institute for Justice Research and Development; Dr. Dan O’Connell, a criminologist at the Center for Drug and Health Studies at the University of Delaware; and Marina Duane, a research fellow at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Reading and Resources from NIJ

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Incarcerated individuals deserve opportunities for healing and growth, but they often lack the necessary resources for such opportunities. Additionally, organizational cultures that don’t support these outcomes often stand in the way. Researchers and practitioners gathered at NIJ’s 2023 National Research Conference to share ideas and projects that will increase opportunities for incarcerated populations around the country. This show continues their conversation. 

Angel Sanchez, a visiting fellow with the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the Department of Justice, hosts this discussion with three guests: Dr. Stephen J. Tripodi, an associate professor at Florida State University’s College of Social Work and a faculty director at the Institute for Justice Research and Development; Dr. Dan O’Connell, a criminologist at the Center for Drug and Health Studies at the University of Delaware; and Marina Duane, a research fellow at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Reading and Resources from NIJ

Other Resources

SPEAKER 1: Welcome to Justice Today, the official podcast of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, where we shine a light on cutting-edge research and practices and offering an in-depth look at what we're doing to meet the biggest public safety challenges of our time. Join us as we explore how funded science and technology help us achieve strong communities.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Hello, everyone, I'm Angel Sanchez, a visiting fellow with the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the Department of Justice. In my current role, I focus on improving corrections and reintegration and increasing access to higher ed for people inside and after prison. Today, I and my three guests are here at the NIJ 2023 Conference, which is a big deal, first conference in a very long time. And we just participated in a great panel focused on meeting people where they are. Today, I have with me Stephen Tripodi from Florida State University. I have Marina Duane, coming to us as a research fellow from the University of Chicago, and I have Dr. Dan O'Connell coming to us from the University of Delaware. Now, before we get started, Stephen, welcome.

STEPHEN TRIPODI: Thank you very much, Angel. It's quite an honor to be invited to be on the panel here at the NIJ Research Conference. I'm excited to talk more about the research that we presented in yesterday's symposium.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Definitely looking forward to it. Marina, welcome.

MARINA DUANE: Thank you, Angel. Similar to Stephen, I'm honored to be here, and it's particularly exciting to be at the panel where we discuss meeting people where they are, instituting positive culture, and really giving people opportunities while they are incarcerated.


DR. DAN O'CONNELL: Also glad to be here. Thank you for inviting us, we were super excited. When you're doing a panel presentation, you always run out of time at the end, and so when we found out we would have time to continue our discussion here, we were happy to oblige.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Yeah, that's exactly what I was most excited about, as you all know and heard me share on the panel. You know, having gone to prison at the age of 16, that was my last arrest before, you know, after being in and out of the system as a teenager, you know, I served over 12 years in the system with the highest level of education available to me was a GED and ultimately was released on 12--after 12 years on 10 years' probation and homeless, with little reentry support. Thankfully, I was able to find a homeless shelter that received me, a community college that welcomed me, and that's where I began my prison-to-law school journey. Today, I'm a licensed attorney, but the reality is that all my successes, in reality, were not because of prison but rather in spite of it: in spite of the lack of support, the lack of benefits, the lack of encouragement and hope that one ought to find there, to—for one to turn their life around. 

And so for me, it was habilitation for the first time. I came from a world where there wasn't mainstream society, so this post-prison experience was my first time being "habilitated" not rehabilitated. Now, we know that 95% of people are going to come home, and they're going to re-enter society. So it's not just in the individual's benefit to be prepared, to have been exposed to mainstream society, and to be a contributing member of society, but it's also in the public's interest. It increases public safety, it helps communities, and hopefully, starts breaking some generational barriers. To do that, however, we can't just wait for individuals to be getting out, and we can't just be focusing on those individuals that are getting out at the expense of the ones that have long-term or indefinite sentences, and are forced to stay in because carceral systems create carceral cultures. And whether those cultures are healthy and supportive of pro-social preparations is going to be determined by the kind of preparation opportunities people have inside. You all, in this panel, were able to present some research, talking about the benefits, the opportunities, and even the challenges of bringing these type of support services into an environment like a carceral setting which itself can become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. 

So to get us started, I want to give each of you a chance to briefly talk about the research you presented because I had the benefit of sitting through it and learning a lot from it, but I would love for the public to also get to hear about this. So Dr. Tripodi, I want to start with you. Could you share a little bit about your research--the research you conducted and some of the insights you've gleaned, and why you thought it was important to conduct this research?

STEPHEN TRIPODI: Of course. Thank you so much, Angel. And before doing that, I just want to say how much I benefitted from meeting you, Angel, yesterday, and how motivated I am by your story that you briefly shared here and we'll talk more about I'm sure. Having people with lived experiences add meaning to the research is so important to me, so thank you. 

And I have been doing research with incarcerated people and or formally incarcerated people since my doctoral program in Austin, Texas back in 2007. I am very passionate about doing anything that I can to help individuals, families, communities impacted by the criminal justice system improve their lives in any way; very passionate about helping incarcerated people feel a little bit better at the end of the day, whatever that means; trying to improve conditions. And I have been working a lot on prisoner reentry and jail reentry, too, over the last handful of years. 

This project that we're talking about here is led by Dr. Kerry Pettis, Dr. Tanya Ren, and myself. And we are implementing and evaluating a trauma-based program that includes community—programming for community stability for 18 to 35-year-old men released to, primarily, Jacksonville, Florida or Tallahassee, Florida. This project--the trauma-informed care project is called RISE, it stands for Resiliency In Stressful Experiences. It's a cognitive-behavioral-based program that's also present-centered, in that we do not ask the participants to talk about their specific lifetime traumatic events because we don't want to risk them being re-traumatized by talking about this, so it's a present-centered approach. And RISE has four different modules. The first module occurs while the research participants are still incarcerated. They have up to four sessions while incarcerated. The module one sessions focus largely on psychoeducation and stress reduction. Modules two through four take place in the community, after they're released from prison, and initially they work on emotional regulation and understanding their triggers, and how to respond to their triggers. Ultimately then, more regulation in module three, along with trauma processing and starting to work on housing and employment stability. And then in module four, they work on triggers, interpersonal skills, and maintaining positive trajectories. 

This is a randomized controlled trial in which participants are randomized to either the group that gets RISE or to a treatment-as-usual control group. We have recruited over 400 participants thus far, and what--the preliminary results that we presented in this conference, this NIJ research conference, is looking at before intervention--looking at pre-test and post-test for those who, one, finish the in-prison portion of programming, and two, those who finish all of RISE programming. And we saw that those who finished in-prison RISE programming, those four sessions in prison, when they got out, we talked to them again approximately a month after they got out, and they had improvements in substance use disorder severity, impulsivity, coping, and hostility. So we're starting to see promise there in this correctional-based programming that the four of us have discussed, it's so important to able to provide--to be able to provide these services and improve their conditions in any way that we can. And then those that finish all of RISE programming improved their substance use disorder severity from baseline, which was measured before they started the programming in prison, to the second time point, which is about four months after release. And then their full-time employment rates were improved greatly for eight months out of prison, their homelessness decreased greatly eight months out of prison. In fact, 30% of our sample were unemployed at time of arrest and only about 15% to 20% were unemployed at these eight months out of prison. So there's promising signs here that this trauma-based program, that includes community stability, is having promising results with community stability for our sample of participants. 

One reason why this work is so important is that with our sample of over 400 people that we recruited, 71.5% meet the criteria for substance use disorder, and they averaged six lifetime trauma experiences, according to the lifetime trauma questionnaire. So this is a group of people, not surprising, to most who are--who are familiar with this population, who have high rates of trauma experiences and high rates of substance use disorder. So we're encouraged with the preliminary results that we're seeing thus far.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Yeah, Dr. Tripodi. I mean, I was really excited, besides the great promise that was gleaned from your research, to see that this was in Florida, and that's where I served those 12 years. And, you know, by the time I was 14, I had already witnessed two people murdered in front of me, and so I had actually forgot about that. It was recently my former prosecutor who reminded me when he was talking about, "Imagine a 14-year-old who sees two kid--two people die in front of him before he's 14, there's little hope for that person." I'm like, "Yeah," and we--he's like, "That was you, remember?" And I thought, "Wow, I didn't even think about that." You know, I'm wondering how much of that we compartmentalize as individuals, but very excited and want to come back to it. 

But before we do, I also want to give Marina an opportunity to share about some of her research because while Dr. Tripodi was focused on in-prison interventions, yours is at the jail level, which is very important because those are both carceral settings that tend to have completely different demographics and needs. Prison individuals may have a longer period for intervention to take place while jails are very short-term and there's a lot of needs for people while they're coming in, and they might be high turnover so they're going to be getting out very soon. So tell us about that, Marina.

MARINA DUANE: Sure. Thank you, Angel. So I just wanted to kind of also backtrack to your question on why I wanted to do this research. I have--I come, originally, from Ukraine, and over there, my degree was in psychology where I studied psychotherapy and counseling and importance of it. And then when I moved to this country and lived for a while, and saw jails and how counseling was done, I will tell you that I got somewhat discouraged because counseling in jails, let's just be honest, nonexistent--is often nonexistent. Or if it does exist, the quality varies, and sometimes it can do more harm than good. Sometimes it can be done well. 

So I also started notice it, of course, with the opioid epidemic, an opportunity because--that you could counseling and mental health while people are in the jail, but the issue is how it's going to be done. So even before COVID, I thought, well, there is research that says that counseling can be done remotely. Can we do it--can telehealth, using technology, increase at least access to the kind of people, therapists, who offer this kind of treatment? And it was very difficult before the COVID to find a jail that would be willing to work with us but COVID was a blessing in disguise where then everybody was forced to do any kind of treatment or groups online, so we were very fortunate to find Franklin County Sheriff's Office in Massachusetts that kind of opened even my own eyes, and our team's eyes, in terms of what can be done with counseling. They had a very thoughtful approach to behavioral health treatment. They swiftly moved to remote--to remote platforms. And it was interesting, we were studying individual counseling, and they hired graduate students or people who were working towards their graduate degree in clinical psychology to do individual counseling for people who were inside the jail. So we went and surveyed those people, whether they were still incarcerated, which was unfortunate, some people were still, or those people who were released, we still asked them about counseling. And we did the same with therapists, to measure--to understand really where--whether therapeutic alliance--whether the bond between the therapist and the patient was established, and we found that 90% of people who responded, with an opiate addiction, during COVID, and they were in jail, they did say that there was a therapeutic bond. And we can talk about challenges; our study is quite nuanced, but I think that in and of itself is promising, that it can be right when there is a mindset from the leadership, from the staff, which takes time to really focus on this and provide this kind of support for people.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Uh-hmm. That's so interesting. And to highlight some of the silver linings that emerged after the pandemic, things that many facilities will have not even entertained became normalized, such as access to telehealth, giving individuals tablets and access to opportunities, education, mental health opportunities that now could be accessed remotely, which before it was none at all. And while I still believe that in-person engagement is probably the gold standard, I would much rather, as an individual incarcerated, have some access than none at all. And so we're really--I'm really excited to see how COVID forced many of the penal systems and the jails to go forward, as some might say, 10 years in advance, it might have taken about 10 years before this culture would have set in. 

Dan, I want to talk to you about your research and hear some of the reasons that you decided to do this research, and some of the interesting reflections you have about the realities of bringing support into carceral settings and maybe even the old practice of waiting for people--to serve them right before they’re about to get out. What are your thoughts, and tell us what got you started into--on this research?

DR. DAN O'CONNELL: First of all, it's nice to hear that somebody did a research study in COVID where COVID actually helped the research study because that certainly wasn't the case with our study, and I don't think it was with Stephen's. This study began a while back. We do a lot of work with the Delaware Department of Corrections, and the Delaware Department of Correction is trying to move towards an evidence-based system. So they've started from assessment, all the way through reentry, trying to go for evidence-based types of things. So they're doing evidence-based assessments using risk-need-responsivity, and they were looking for the best programming they could find. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very popular right now in correctional settings. There's a lot of different programs out there, many of which are not thoroughly tested. And so we decided to work with them, the Delaware Department of Corrections, to bring in the best CBT program that we could find, and implement it and do a rigorous trial of it. 

We decided to go with the CBI-CC, the Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention Core Curriculum developed by the University of Cincinnati. Because that was, as far as we could see, the granddaddy of them all in terms of dosage, in terms of the testing that they did on it in fidelity, and things they were doing in Cincinnati. It is a very intensive, long-term program. It's fifty-five, ninety-minute sessions delivered twice a week over a six-month period. So we set this study up, we were doing a randomized trial of it, we began the study in 2019. And as we all know, COVID hit in 2020, so we had some issues with that; I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that. We responded, we worked with NIJ, we worked with our partners at the Delaware Department of Corrections to get a study out of it. We don't have data yet on the outcomes, we'll talk more about outcomes, I think all of us here, in a little bit, but we do have some in-prison changing and thinking skills because we did some survey research. And we did see, with all the problems that we're having, some changes in criminal thinking between time one and time two based on the people that participated in the program. 

So we're seeing some positive results just within the prison, which brings me to the kind of what you alluded to, the in-prison part. I think--I kind of think we're entering a paradigm shift. We spent the last 20 years on reentry, right? And we're doing evidence-based practices in reentry, and organizations like NIJ, BJA, lots of different places, have been looking at improving reentry services. And now I think we're shifting more in towards culture and specifically in-prison culture. I think the shift is taking place literally as we're speaking. And part of that, Stephen is looking more cultural kind of things, wellness things, you're certainly--Marina's certainly looking at wellness. And what we were looking at was in-prison behavior rather than post-release. We're going to gather post-release the traditional recidivism stuff, but we're--our study was designed more to focus on in-prison behavioral, as measured by misconduct, grievance, and acting out, and those types of things. And the reasons for that was a lot of people are in prison for a long time. Angel, you were there for a long time, right? So, you know, your reentry period was short, your prison period was long, and that's true with many, many people. So part of what we're thinking in Delaware, and other people are as well, is that maybe we start moving some of those treatment things up because in the reentry literature, you start, you know, your programming like a year, maybe, before release because you're preparing people for reentry and there was less of an eye on that in-prison experience, right? 

And part of that in-prison experience is the culture of the institution, and I know you talked a lot about that yesterday, and maybe we can talk some more about it here today. What we believe, and part of what was going on in the study that we were doing, is that by moving this stuff--our study, you had to have at least two years left on your sentence to be eligible. So we flipped it. If you were getting ready to get out, you couldn't be, and we had guys that still had 10 years left and things like that in our samples. Tthe idea being that we could use the programming to change some of that culture in the institution, right? Program involves, what? Interactions among people, especially CBT group-based programming. It involves changes in language, changes in thinking, changes in behavior, right? All of--that's culture. That's culture at work. All right? And so part of our thought is that by doing more of this, doing some of these programs, doing them earlier in people's sentences, can we use--and this is a question that I don't have an answer to, can we use programming to start changing culture within institutions? All of which--and that changes the outcome variables. It changes what you're looking at, right? One of the things we were talking about yesterday was that nobody in our panel yesterday presented data on recidivism. We were in a panel at a national conference on correctional programming and we were not talking about recidivism. It's a shift in focus, which, 10 years ago, on a correctional panel, we would not be--have been having this discussion. So I think these are important changes that we're seeing, are part of--and are kind of--that I'm happy to be a part of it.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: No, and I'm excited to have you as part of this discussion, and I couldn't agree with you more that there was something very heartening about the fact that we were trying to measure and discuss success, and what success looks like. I often share that "Angel, today, gets out of prison, commits suicide" or "Angel, today, gets out of prison and goes from prison to law school," and on recidivism measures, both of them equate as success. But we know on well-being, both of those are not equal successes. And so I really appreciated Dr. Tripodi talking about employment and housing, right? Because even if individuals are probably recidivating at the same rate but those that are staying out are now having greater stability in terms of employment and housing. That means that there's also greater stability for their children or those younger ones that are--they're responsible for, which hopefully will create for a better community. 

I like to say that healthy communities inevitably are safe communities. We could become very safe "communities" but not very unhealthy. We could be North Korea, lock it down, no crime. Doesn't mean that we have a healthy community. But healthy communities have safe communities, healthy communities have healthy individuals who are healthy employees, who are healthy homeowners, who then can start healthy businesses, and also are healthy consumers, right? So if we go and have this paradigm shift where we're thinking about “how are people thriving?”, I think we could start not only doing well for the individual that, you know, that we're serving, but we're also doing something for the greater community that they're returning to. 

Now, you know, you--we talked about culture, and I think this is a good point that you make, Dan, that there has been a shift, and so much so that we had the--at NIJ yesterday was announced for the first time, that a solicitation in partnership between the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance put out a solicitation, and the focus of it and the title of it is “Transforming Prison Cultures, Climates, and Spaces.” So right now, this is a plug for all of those who are listening and are interested in either providing technical assistance or doing research on how do we change carceral cultures and create a better climate inside prisons. This is an opportunity; I don't think we would have had this discussion 10, 15 years ago, and let alone having money go out for this type of work. 

So before I turn to my next question, I also want to hear from you all your take on this--the fact that right now, for the first time in three decades, we have Pell Grants being reinstated for incarcerated people. For three decades, it was banned. And when we talk about culture, we're talking about language, mindsets, behaviors, and the reality is that for many people who have the privilege of going to college and being exposed to different disciplines; they are also being exposed to different ways of seeing the world; different ways of putting language to their experiences; different ways on reflecting on their own growth, trauma, challenges. And, if you ask me, most people get their first exposure to cognitive-behavioral therapy through their higher education. So I wanted to get your thoughts because by virtue of your position, you all have been exposed to higher education, and I will assume that it has enriched your life, and it has allowed you, then, to see the world differently. I know it did so for me, and if I think about Malcolm X and the impact that the Nation of Islam and education had on him, and others who have been transformative individuals, I--it just tugs at my heart that there's a great opportunity here for individuals to grow and also to change the environment around them. So I'll start with you, Dr. Tripodi. What are your thoughts on--or take on this Pell Grant reinstatement now?

STEPHEN TRIPODI: Thank you, Angel. And before I get to that, you know, huge advocate of higher education occurring in the prisons, of course. You use the word heartened about a couple of things earlier, exactly as I was thinking that exact word. And I am quite heartened about a couple of things. One is the conversation that we are all having about wanting people who are incarcerated, people who are formally incarcerated, strive to reach their strengths, strive to thrive in the community, strive to thrive in prison, which we need to talk about more, not just upon reentry; allowing them to reach for healthy coping skills, healthy interpersonal relationships, meaningful work trajectories. It's really great to see that rather than just reducing deficits to reduce the odds of recidivism. We have been a part of studies where people have been incarcerated literally for working too much because they work two jobs and weren’t able to be in their halfway house for eight hours a day, which is required by their--by their parole requirement, so another example of recidivism--you know, the limitations of recidivism. 

I'm really excited about this conversation of achieving well-being and thriving. Part of that is education, huge proponent of bringing more into education. I've been talking with people throughout the country, generally throughout Florida, specifically who have done some great work about inside-out programs: trying to bring the students that we're teaching into the prison and teach the incarcerated people--the people who are incarcerated, and the university students simultaneously, in the same classroom, in the prison. Now, it's a great idea. We want to be able to do that in a way where the people who are incarcerated get college credit for that, too; they don't just take the class for the sake of the university students. So I've been talking with people who have been successful about that throughout the county, there's some people down in South Florida, particularly, who have been really successful there in getting these to count for college credits, and something I'm beginning to work on; I have been working on it, will continue to do so, to bring those opportunities, which is another example of improving conditions in prisons.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Yeah, I’m excited to hear more about that. I was fortunate to go back into one of the prisons I was once incarcerated in. We--I was one of the tutors in a legal writing class, so we brought the University of Miami's law writing class to not only the law clerks inside the prison, but anyone in the prison that wanted to also learn, and we're teaching them how to draft motions and briefs. And it was really encouraging to present them with a petition for writ of certiorari, which is what you ask the Supreme Court of the United States--when you're asking the Supreme Court of the United States to accept the case, and they rarely do, but this wasn't--this one was a successful one. But the reason I brought this one, it was because it was written by an incarcerated person before it became successful and turned into a 9-0 decision from the United States Supreme Court. And I cannot tell you how transformative that was for the individuals in that classroom to know that someone like them had the capabilities and potential to write something like this and be successful. 

In prison, we hear too often that we're the scum of the earth. We're learning too often, by social learning and what we are told just by our environment, that we cannot be trusted, that we won't do any good, and when we get out, that our prison bay will be held for us because they know we'll come back. Right. And so that's the constant tape recorder we have going on, you know, and so to try to challenge that, I think, is so exciting. 

Marina, what are your thoughts about this? Because I think it's so amazing to just not only imagine the benefits that individuals get when they're receiving an education, but tell me what would be some of the benefits that students, for example, students at the University of Chicago, when they start seeing the potential in individuals? How did you feel when you first met me and said, “Wow, 12 years in prison, lots of disciplinary reports, violent gang-related charges, but lawyer right now on his way to Yale to get an advanced law degree?” Like, how--did that do something for you that you think students currently right now would benefit from if they started seeing some of their classmates or people inside that one day may be getting out as well?

MARINA DUANE: Well, it got me inspired and sad, Angel, because as you said, when I heard your story, you said that, you know, you'll succeed despite those odds, and it made me think, “what a waste of 12 years and what we can--we couldn't--could have done, given you credits for doing Inside-Out Program curriculum. What other opportunities are there?” And I just want to shift here also to counseling that can be done well, and a notion that also Dan brought up that cognitive behavioral therapy, like there is a lot of it and we don't quite know the quality of it. So, that's another point and theme is people who are incarcerated, whether they're in jail for three days, which will still ruin their lives in many ways, or whether they're long, have a right to access in services not just for a check mark but for a prepared therapist who might use different modalities. Actually, in the jail where we were studying it, it was--the counselors we're using--some of it was CBT. Some of them were using other clinical psychotherapy. There was a group intervention. But quality needs to be there, and people really need to be able to engage with the person so that it matters to them, how they connected, and maybe when they go out, something, you know, there will be a spark: “Wait, maybe I will try this therapy because it helped.” 

And, you know, our study didn't focus in depth on working with people and what they did--done and how much they engage in therapy afterwards. But in Franklin County, going back to where--our study, one of the interesting things that they are doing is the behavioral health provider who works on the outside, there is an embedded reentry worker who connects people to treatment and say, “Hey, your first appointment is there,” and it’s not just a paper that is thrown at you, it's actually--it’s already there. It's in the system, and the behavioral health provider can connect to them who is, at that point, dissociated with the jail, say “Hey, would you like to continue? I’d like to meet you.” So, that's a successful example of, you know, real engaging people and being thoughtful about their journey when they exit, when anxiety is high, when all kinds of mental health issues arise and all those employment challenges that you've already highlighted happen. So to me, like, just a lot of exciting work I guess happening but I just want to say I don't want just to paint an optimistic picture because we're not quite there yet. Not in every place. But what we are doing today with the podcast, with audience, is highlighting those examples so that other jails, other prisons, can potentially see, “Wait, someone is trying to do this. Let's try experimenting with this,” and hopefully we'll make it mainstream in the future.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Wow. I could--you know, Marina, you just brought me back and you just said--helped me reflect on my personal experience. I related counseling with jail. That was my connection. That was a jail process where counsel--you go to counseling as part of your jail time, prison time. But when I got out, I didn't. And the first appointment that I had with a therapist did not come until I was at a university. 

MARINA DUANE: And that goes back to the quality, the issue that we are talking about, whether you are able to show up for people when they're seeking it, how much effort. And I do want to say that, you know, some of these providers where insurance is not covered, they're struggle--they have their own issues with reaching how much effort they can put into this, but I still think we--there is a chance here. We are losing something, and there are ways with the technology where—or bringing people in the jail because you know the people with opioid use—addiction or substance use or just anybody, they have mental health needs, you could bring people in and connect them but in a way that is thoughtful so that people sort of can disconnect and engage afterwards during that critical moment well--when they are re-entering.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: In fact, in your research, you had some of your clients respond that they prefer speaking to a therapist often through telehealth means because it disconnected them from the jail. They were finally getting to talk--as language we would use, with people from the outside world.

MARINA DUANE: Absolutely. That was a unique setup in Franklin County Sheriff's Office that they didn't see this therapist talking to the correctional workers all the time, so there is that aspect on the client side. But I also want to say some of the counselors, what they said. There are some challenges, right: overcoming technology issues, finding out when you can do this, when you connect with--during what time of the day. But some of the counselors told us that, you know, “I'm a woman and sometimes it doesn't feel safe going into the jail.” So this presented an opportunity for me to provide this counseling. I was at home. There was an IT team that helped me and the sheriff's office connect securely, and I'm saying this intentionally because I think when we were trying to look for sites, there is this whole fear that you cannot do counseling with the confidentiality issues online securely, but it can be done. It’s not that hard. I mean, Zoom now showed—Zoom world has shown us that it can be done and that it actually provides something important to people.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Dan, I want to ask you, you know, you touched on this in your last response, but what are some of the existing barriers in trying to change some of the prison culture? I know that you're thinking about using programming to change the environment, rather than letting the environment influence or deter programming, but how do we progress from a system, a criminal legal system, that we know will punish people but will also restore, redeem, and prepare those people to live dignified lives?

DR. DAN O'CONNELL: Probably slowly and badly. But that's how progress works. I want to revisit the education Inside-Out thing because I'm privileged to teach one of those classes, and it’s one of the coolest things that I do which is to take young, undergraduate students into incarceration settings and work with incarcerated people to study issues of justice. And I have my outside students constantly telling me how enlightening it was for them to be part of that experience. And believe me, it's not about the facilitator. It's not about the professor. It's about the process. And I've had inside students who found out that they could sit in a college classroom, participate, be successful and, you know, do the assignments and all of those things. So, a very empowering thing for them. 

And really any program. We had this conversation yesterday. Any activity that normalizes the prison environment changes the culture, even for an hour, right? Because when we're in a room--when I'm in a room on a Monday night with my outside students and my inside students, it's a classroom, not a cellblock, okay? And we're doing education, not prison. We're doing it in a prison, but there is this--and I've had the inside guys told me, I so look forward to coming here because for that three-hour block of time, I don't feel like I'm sitting in a prison. I feel like I'm doing something else. So, in terms--like, how do you change culture? And I joked slowly and badly. Slowly is absolutely correct. Culture change is very, very slowly. And it took us a long time to get here. And so if we're going to start thinking about how the--how do you start pushing back on that which is in there, you know, the first thing you do is you chip away at it through normalcy and normalization practices, all right? That can be treatment. I said that treatment changes the language. Treatment changes the interaction. That is good. 

Now, so one of the problems we had--well, one of the challenges of doing programming in a prison is the prison culture, right? I talked about our CBT program, which was 90 session--or 55 sessions, 90 minutes a week, all that, right? So if you add that up, that's three hours a week in programming, okay? Three hours a week in programming versus the rest of the time on the cellblock, all right? So we're normalizing and providing a treatment culture for 90 minutes a week or three hours a week, right? And then everybody goes back to their unit, okay? So I think that a different way to do this--and people are doing it, there are programs that, you know, the Virginia Department of Corrections is already doing this; they’re doing this in some prisons in California; we're starting it in Delaware, the Delaware Department of Corrections is moving in this direction. And that is having treatment units where the treatment takes place on the unit, right? The staff is all trained on the model, okay? We did this in Delaware back in the old therapeutic community days where the staff on the model were trained on the TC model, everybody lived on the unit. And so you didn’t just go to your sessions for three hours a week, but if Dan and Stephen are having an argument on the unit at 8:00 at night and the counselors are gone, the officer on the unit said, “Well, Dan, could you have approached Steven differently of that? Could you have thought different?” They use the language of the program throughout, right? So that does a couple things. A, it increases your dosage from a--from a treatment standpoint, and it starts changing the language and the interactions on the unit on the culture. My inside guys, when I’m teaching in the prison, we have a lot of downtime because there’s a lot of group work I go around and talk to people. And they tell me, you know, “the culture in the prison is the culture of the street,” right? And they don't like it. They don't like it. But they don't feel empowered to change it, right? “I'm not going to stand up on a unit with, you know, 50 other guys and say, hey, we all need to, you know, chill” or whatever the--whatever that will be. 

So it's got to be some kind of a mix. You've got to empower the people that are there, and you--I think it was you, Angel, yesterday who said, you know, the long timers are respected voices in these institutions, right? In many ways, I think we could--we could elicit their assistance, right? But to do that, A, you got to be legit. So you got to think, you know, can a--can a bunch of white guys from the university come in and do this? I think the answer's no, right? We're going to have to work with incarcerated populations. We're going to have to work with people who have, frankly, street cred, right, and to go in and do this. And we do some of this in Delaware. We work with incarcerated people a lot. So there's--I don't, you know, nobody's got this all figured out, but I think a lot of smart people are thinking in these lanes. And I think the--I think the needle is moving already. I think the people in this room are helping to move that needle.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: That's great. And, you know, you talking about the therapeutic setting or like an environment that--for lack of better terms, is just conducive to pro-social opportunities, practices, and supports. A lot of--often, I get challenged with: “People need a place to live before they go to college, Angel. They need a place to work before they go to college, Angel.” And they almost pin these two things against each other rather than seeing them as scaffolding in this hierarchy of needs so that they could finally be actualized, right? And what I often remember from my journey is despite having no  reentry support, the place where I found my first professional job setting was as a work study in financial aid, but I only get that work study job if I’m a student at that school. The first place I had a therapy session was at my university, but I only get that therapy session because I have university health insurance, right? The first place I had professional recommenders and I had professional mentors telling me what I could achieve, when all I wanted was a paralegal degree to be a paralegal, and they were pushing me to go get a bachelor's and go to grad school, came from that environment. So often, it is places like universities that provide all the pro-social environments and supports that we need. And so when I'm thinking of that, I'm thinking I want to see something like that happening inside a prison, not “people need treatment but not education. People need treatment but not empowerment,” right? Because the treatment is supposed to be a form of education and empowerment, but it doesn't end and start and end with just eight weeks, right? I cannot go to a prospective employer and say, “I took a CBT course.” The question that's going to be is, “Why did you need that?” But if I tell them, “I have an associate's degree and I had a couple of classes of psychology that also helped me learn about myself,” well, now, you're—"you can learn whatever I need to teach you,” right? 

So thank you for sharing that and I want to wrap up and give you all an opportunity to share some of the promising examples that have been gleaned either directly from your research or other research that you've been looking into on how we start shifting some of this culture inside. We've already talked about the culture carriers. That's my--that's me and my argument and my claim is that we cannot be neglecting the people that have long-term sentences who establish the culture inside, but with that, I also want to make clear, we also have to have--give them agency and not expect them to just be a puppet, if you will, on behalf of the institution where, you know, my family comes from these dictator regimes where even the people in the community, when they are supposed to be leaders but they seem to be speaking for the regime, people view them as puppets and it creates this "us against them" mentality. And again, I'm always reminded of Malcolm X and the influence that the Nation of Islam had over him and in building him up and getting him from a person who was involved in crimes to being a person who finally found potential in himself and wanted to change his community for the better. So I wanted to--that's my pitch of how we start moving culture: higher ed in prison, supporting those with long-term sentences, and giving them agency, you know, for the betterment of them and the people around them. I'll turn to you, Dr. Tripodi. Any final thoughts on some solutions or promising practices?

DR. STEPHEN TRIPODI: Well, I'll start--I want to go back a couple of minutes first, Angel, if that's okay to talk about some of the barriers that we have seen in the community afterwards. Transportation, of course, being a major one, which is where Marina's work is so important, right? So I think telehealth and telehealth programming and reentry is really important. It's really important in these big urban areas, too, where people don't have transportation to get around. I think we also need to see communities providing a lot more resources to people being released from prison. Corrections has been doing most of that work. I have a couple of colleagues in the Florida State University College of Criminology who recently had a paper accepted looking at the communities where people from prison are released to. Not surprising to anybody but they're being released to a very under-resourced communities, and the people of color being released from prison are being released to even more under-resourced communities, so we need a conscious effort to be able to provide more resources in those communities, which is one of the solutions. 

I am, again, really heartened to see that we are really focused on improving conditions in prison at this conference. There had been a lot of wonderful presentations on working with officers, working with the trauma culture, working with the trauma officers, working to reduce the stress of officers. A lot of great conversations about programmings for incarcerated individuals; including incarcerated individuals in research project I think is a great solution. I know I'm incredibly motivated, just talking with you over the last couple of days. And then even zooming out even more would be to look at the importance of humanizing the criminal justice system and the people involved in the criminal justice system. Personal opinion, the most people that are in prison don't belong to be in prison, but we need to look at even those who have done, you know, violent crimes, who have done--who have done things to get themselves in prison as human beings. Bryan Stevenson is the one who said “everybody is much better than the worst thing they've ever done.” And at this conference, it's been so enlightening and refreshing and heartening to see this conversation with a focus on humanizing people involved: the individuals, families, and communities that are impacted by the criminal justice system.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Thank you for mentioning Bryan Stevenson, a personal hero of mine's, one whose story I admire, and also someone who gave me some dignity because I am one of those violent offenders. And not just once, I had multiple gang-related shootings, fighting, and hopefully I--my personal mission is not only to say, “Look what I've done,” but to say, “I am a reflection and a representation of many of my friends and people I don't know but are in prison who have the same potential.” And like Marina said, it breaks my heart just to imagine that had the community college not received me, had the shelter not welcomed me, I probably would've went back to my neighborhood and it would've been, as Bruce Western's research shows, going from poverty to prison back to poverty back to prison. And once I would've went back, people would've said, “He didn't want to stay out bad enough. He had no potential. He's a waste of a life.” And hopefully I am proving that counterfactual in real life. Marina, any final thoughts on some promising practice or just what would you like to see--where would you like to see the field go?

MARINA DUANE: Thank you. And Angel, certainly you are the example and many examples as we go in the field and see that people succeed despite the odds, but then also us trying to figure out how to do it for people when they're inside and really meeting people where they are and diverse needs. I think--I don't want to be trite in my answer, but I do see the potential in technology and in many different ways that this conference is highlighting. So obviously, I--we've already talked in our own research and the effort that the jails are doing with counseling via telehealth. Also, I just should note it doesn't have to be just psychotherapy. Group interventions we learned, for example, with psychotherapy can be challenging, but for example, there are now cameras where people who are incarcerated, whether it's men or women, the--if you buy a camera that provides enough access, you can actually engage people with Narcotics Anonymous, AA, peer support groups, so you really connect them on the outside. I don't want to be naive that you don't want--you want to work with people like you, Angel, who might have the institutional culture to engage really in that kind of effort, but I do think it promise--it's promising direction to open up that world. And then in a total different way, that opened up my mind. And today, we--we're the panel where body-worn cameras are being experimented with in jails and how that changes the dynamic and the relationship. There is a lot to study there, but I just think that technology opens up possibilities that we otherwise didn't have. We have to be though cautious that there are humans who are interacting, like I think I made the case for counseling. It matters still who provides that. It matters who sets it up and how it's done, but I just don't want to lose sight of that exciting opportunity.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: That's right. And making sure, like you said, we have to be cautious that the technology is used for rehabilitation and not control. As organizational theory tells us, if you have a control theory, then the incarcerated people are viewed as a threat and those that are on their side, or serving them, are also viewed as outside threats and it pins counselors and staff to choose between: “Do you want to serve them or do you want to serve us?” And that's all the product of control theory, right? And so we want to get to a rehabilitative theory to ensure that the technology is not used for surveillance and punishment but rather is used for edifying, empowering, and rehabilitating or habilitating, should I say, people inside. And I'm thinking of Project Rebound and Underground Scholars in the west coast. I was in an event, a student--you know, this is a student organization supporting formerly incarcerated people inside the UC system. And they had an event with a speaker and it was so encouraging to see that--it was a Zoom event, a virtual event, so you had students that were Zooming in. Some were on site at a UC campus, some were Zooming in from other places but there were a few that were Zooming in from inside San Quentin and some of the other prisons. And they are prospective students because part of the mission, for example, of Underground Scholars is not—it’s recruitment, retention, and being empowered to advocate for each other. So yeah, that’s a good example of using technology in a positive way, but I could not imagine an institution that would allow that if they're operating, whether they say it or not, on their organizational theory of control rather than habilitation. Dan, any final thoughts?

DR. DAN O'CONNELL: The only final thought I would--I would give, having listened to everybody, you know, and this has been very encouraging, is if we're talking about cultural change and we're talking about, you know, systemic change, it's going to take a lot of people. And so we're going to need people to work in corrections, in counseling, in policing, in all of these things that are being covered at this--at this--at this conference. We're talking about changing culture and stuff. That's going to happen through people getting involved and doing things. And, you know, I had lunch today with some people from the Bureau of Prisons that are having trouble hiring because people don't want to work in prisons, right? That's part of the change, that stigma of even working in a prison, right? You know, it's going to take good people going into these tough situations and doing tough work. And that's going to--that's going to be a long, long haul. But I'm confident--I'm confident we'll get there.

ANGEL SANCHEZ: Well, I want to thank you all for lending us your time and your insights. I want to thank our listeners, and I want to encourage our listeners to follow us on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts and stay tuned for future episodes of NIJ. And if I could close this episode with: the title of our panel was Meeting People Where You Are, or Where They Are, should I say, the title of our panel was Meeting People Where They Are. I think we could add a little bit to that and say: Meeting People Where They Are for the Benefit of All Of Us. It's not just the individuals inside but the public at large. Thank you all.

SPEAKER 2: To learn more about today's topic or about NIJ, visit the links in the episode description and join us for new episodes every month. 

Opinions or points of view expressed in this episode represent a consensus of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any products and manufacturers discussed in this episode are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Angel's story
Resiliency In Stressful Experiences
Counseling in jails
Cognitive behavioral therapy in prisons
Healthy communities
Education in correctional settings
Barriers to changing institutional culture
Promising examples and the future of the field