As we continue the conversation about rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, it’s important everyone know the truth about what’s being done inside the DOC facilities to address these issues. We were contacted by some of the men who are leading the ITC program at JCCC and asked if they could write a letter explaining the current state of the program, as they continue to lose support from prison staff and administration. The following is the letter that the men at JCCC wrote regarding this program. Thank you so much to these men for taking the time and effort to write this letter.
“Offenders fight to keep their life changing program above water.
The Intensive Therapeutic Community (ITC) at the Jefferson City Correctional Center is a voluntary six phase multi faceted cognitive program for offenders seeking change. Concentrating on discipline with a highly structured environment and strict regime its mission is to treat chemical dependency and related criminal thinking and behavioral patterns.
The I.T.C. was created at the Missouri State Penitentiary. The blueprint for the program emerged from a meeting between the substance Abuse Advisory Council and then director Dr. Dora Schiriro. In light of insufficient treatment programs, geared toward lasting change, the offenders on the council asked her, what she would do for prisoners with long sentences and admitted drug problems. She replied, ” What are you going to do for yourselves?”
A proposal for a therapeutic community was drafted and accepted. In 1995, the first class of the I.T.C was underway. The program material evolved over the years to cover many aspects of the recovery, self-discovery and self-improvement process for offenders. Issues addressed include substance abuse and twelve step work, anger management, criminality, self-esteem, relapse prevention, and I.C.V.C. work to expose the ways in which the selfish and often violent behaviors of offenders past affected those around them.
Within the I.T.C., peer confrontation drives the change process and upholds the standards of the community. When unacceptable conduct occurs, such as criminal behavior, rule infractions, negative attitudes or lack of consideration for others, other community members will bring that to the individuals attention through one on one confrontation. This can result in group confrontation for more serious offenses where loss of privileges, and learning experiences, such as writing papers, and extra duty within the unit, may be assigned. Refusing to change or comply with behavioral expectations will eventually result in expulsion from the community.
Part of creating an environment conducive to change is isolation from old friends, places, and things which can trigger cravings or promote ones criminal identity. For this reason, the first six months or Intensive phase of the program, clients are not allowed to interact or speak with offenders who are not directly involved in their recovery process. Privileges afforded to G.P offenders such as, T.V., Radio, Canteen, Phone calls, and Recreational activities are voluntarily restricted and gradually restored as they demonstrate commitment to the goals of the program.
Classes and groups are conducted by offender facilitators. These are graduates of the program who have demonstrated good leadership as well as an exceptional grasp of the recovery materials. Facilitators live in the unit and maintain the daily structure of the program. In addition to teaching classes, they handle one on one crisis interventions, and counsel offenders as they endure the life change process.
It is this recipe that has allowed the I.T.C. over the course of it’s history, to be extremely effective. As inmate Facilitators can identify with the thinking errors of the criminal mind and are experienced in identifying criminal behavior. Having both lived and overcome them themselves, lending to the credibility needed for many offenders to trust the process. Though they valiantly strive to make a difference in the lives of offenders, inmate facilitators are limited, as they are often self educated, and lack professional academics.
The political climate, support, and resources available to the program have shifted with time. At one point, I.T.C. encompassed two entire housing units, as well as, two floors of the hospital building at M.S.P. Each unit had one or more substance abuse counselors and dozens of volunteers in corrections who provided individual counseling with clients, treatment planning and various administrative tasks. The I.T.C. was certified as a long term treatment facility, and as such was recognized by the parole board and the court system.
Today the program at JCCC, shows little resemblance of those glory days. While it is true that we have been hit hard by Covid-19. The lack of transfers has stagnated pools of volunteers and the couple of V.I.C.s who have held on through the storm are not allowed to enter the prison due to restrictions. Many other factors are hurting us more.
Having once taken up nearly all of Housing Unit Five, the program has been down sized by J.C.C.C. staff and is conducted in only two of the original four wings, with a scattering of graduates amongst general population offenders. One of the two treatment wings left is being forced to share space with the seminary program from Hannibal LaGrange. Instead of a full time director and contingent of counselors, the program is overseen by one caseworker who doesn’t hold any credibility in the phycology fields.
Alarmingly, there has been a noticeable decline in support for the program from the administration staff. Not just here, but state wide. Many prisons having already closed their I.T.C units. A reality we may well face ourselves as chunks of five house have been carved away for other programs: Puppies for parole, Reentry, Hannibal LaGrange, even new arrivals to prison under the R+O program have all been given I.T.C beds, and privileges (or in some cases, entire communities.) yet,’ these programs do not have the same behavioral standards, structure, nor accountability, and as such, are often disruptive to the change process. As a result, fights and drugs are now common place in a housing unit where just hearing a curse word was a rarity.
Only one wing has been left untouched, through the constant efforts of men who have come to love the life the I.T.C experience has provided for them, and share a dedicated desire to reach other troubled men, that they might share their experiences, and know their new found freedom from addiction.
Yet, for a open wing safer for offenders and staff alike, then even a level 5 maximum security lock down unit, there is less support from custody staff who often look at the program guys as entitled because they need additional time in the wings to accommodate their structured activities. Or the additional privileges afforded to the I.T.C. graduates (Elders), who utilize open wing to sponser and mentor new clients, while role modeling program values.
With hard work should come improvements in circumstances. It becomes an incentive, motivation to push through adversity, and a goal to achieve. The thought becomes, If I want more privileges, I must earn them with hard work. A thought that is practice for this one, “If I want to be successful, take care of my family, and have the life I want, I have to work hard and be responsible.”
If those same privileges are afforded to everyone, without the same expectations of conduct, there is little incentive to maintain the effort level required in the I.T.C program.
There always seems to be a push to find the next big thing in Corrections. Parallel Universe, Restorative Justice, and Reentry are examples of programs de jure. But for those of us who have been through the I.T.C. , we already have something that works- something time tested and proven, with hundreds of Elders released back into society and maintaining successful lives. Possibly one is your neighbor? We want our program to thrive and grow. To draw people in and continue changing lives, that others may experience the freedom from addiction that the twelve steps provide and from criminal lifestyle choices. Instead, we are losing ground, withering away and drying up from lack of support by a system who believes the political advantage to invest in the I.T.C has been lost. The very same system who is preaching rehabilitation to tax paying citizens..
We need help breathing life back into this program and increasing the vital backing that it needs in order to function. We need to foster a spirit of cooperation between custody staff, the administration, the community and tax paying citizens.. After all, who do you want coming to live in your neighborhood. Someone who has taken responsibility for his behavior and taking corrective actions to change the thinking errors that keeps many offenders committing crimes, or those offenders who are only learning to be better at the crimes they commit? The choice is yours and it starts now. Help us raise awareness about the work we do here, reach out to your local representatives, media agencies, state legislators, and prison officials. Tell them to invest your Vote and tax paying dollars into the I.T.C. program.
Written by concerned offenders for reform.”