Restorative Justice~ Healing on the inside

 America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.
George W. Bush    

The path  after prison should lead to a better life. There are many socio-economic reasons why that’s not a true statement. This week my 32 year old cousin went to jail. He made some bad choices and those choices will lead to some long term  jail time. My family is devastated and the majority of my family is focused on the past trying to figure out what went wrong with this young man who had such promise.  

I am not looking backward…I am focused on the future.  I am trying to learn as much as possible about what he can expect once he is inside. How can he make the best of his time in prison…how can he do the work necessary so that  his path leads to a better life and not right back to another  prison cell. In doing my research, I remembered a program a good friend of mine supports. She is a board member and an advocate to the Insight Prison Project. 

Since 1997, the Insight Prison Project has been dedicated to reducing recidivism rates and improving public safety by conducting  in-prison rehabilitation programs that provide prisoners with the tools and life skills necessary to create durable change. Working in partnership with San Quentin State Prison, IPP conducts 19 weekly classes involving more than 200 prisoners. The classes focus on preparing the men to become responsible and productive members of the community when they leave prison.  From IPP’s web site:

The Need   

More than 25 years ago, California enacted legislation [Penal code 1170 (a) (1)] stating that “the purpose of imprisonment for crime is punishment,” essentially banning rehabilitation from the state’s penal system. Since that time, the number of inmates in California’s prisons has increased by 554 percent and the average annual cost to house, feed and guard a prisoner in a state prison is over $43,000/year. As of April 2008, California houses 174.000 prisoners. In addition, a whopping 70% of those who leave prison return within eighteen months of release. Though officially California has added rehabilitation to the correctional department’s title, in reality it spends only 5% of its 10 billion dollar budget on rehabilitation programs.  IPP’s contribution is to develop and conduct innovative in-prison programs – and train others to conduct these programs. There are four kinds of prisoner rehabilitation categories.  Academic, vocational, arts and recreation and behavioral. IPP’s programs sit within the behavioral category. Within that category, our methodology hones in on addressing the entrenched habit patterns that trip up a prisoner regardless of his academic or vocational achievements.  Our motto?  “Leaving prison…before you get out.”   

 Although IPP concentrates on in-prison rehabilitation, They actively collaborate with organizations which provide post-release services and programs. Let’s look at some of the programs they offer:  

  Doing ‘The Work

It’s not what you did that got you here. It’s the thought you believed that made you do what you did that got you here.” This class teaches a very simple method of cognitive restructuring developed by Byron Katie. Katie’s method teaches how to very effectively question one’s thinking so prisoners can easily and consistently find their way out of habitually negative thinking and behaviors. This method has been used in other prison settings with great results. The class is made possible by a generous grant from the Byron Katie Foundation.
 Victim/Offender Education Group (VOEG) 

 The VOEG training is divided into three areas:
 * Offender Education and Accountability 

  *Victim Impact and Sensitivity 

*Victim/Offender Dialogue with a Surrogate Panel 
The purpose of this intensive training is to help offenders fully understand and take responsibility for the impact of their actions and to make the necessary changes in their lives in order to live a productive life free from prison. Restorative Justice research shows that given the opportunity to understand their choices in life and the impact those choices have had on others, offenders can play an important role in helping restore to whole the lives of their victims, their community and themselves.

The more individual offenders understand themselves, and the impact of their criminal behavior on their victim(s) becomes personalized, the greater hope we have to reduce recidivism and witness offenders voluntarily making the necessary changes to live meaningful and productive lives upon release.  

It took me 25 years to come to this understanding,” he said. “Violence is wrong, and I have a choice.”~ Graduate of IPP Violence Prevention Program   

I hope my cousin comes out of prison having left behind his negative thinking and understanding  the impact that his behavior has left on his family and  his community. I thank God for programs like IPP and the  men they help start down a new path. I hope there is a program like IPP that helps restores my cousin soul.  


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