As a psychologist working in a prison, my primary rehabilitative goal is to assist inmates in their development towards becoming productive members of society. I see my role in this process as that of a facilitator. It is my duty to provide the education and skills to the inmate who is then ultimately responsible for choosing to use them for good upon parole.
I believe that rehabilitative efforts and changes should begin within the confines of the prison. This allows inmates to try out new skills and behaviors while they are still in treatment and possibly become more productive inmates. I have also found that the actual implementation of new skills increases an inmate's engagement in treatment. He is more likely to ‘buy into' the treatment and commit to the change.
Although the content of the rehabilitative process is unique to each inmate, my procedural approach towards individual rehabilitation can be generalized using the following five steps:
First, I build a rapport with the inmate. I have found that many inmates are distrustful of others. For me, the most important factors related to building rapport with inmates are genuineness and compassion. As such, I tend to add some person-centered techniques to my sessions. If one has not worked with this population, the idea of compassion towards them might be foreign. I assure you that if you are interested in this line of work, you must only remember that you are there to treat, not judge. Nevertheless, all therapists have blind spots and it is likely that you will have an inmate/patient with a case that, due to your blind spot, you should not treat.
Second, I conduct a clinical intake with a strong focus on social/developmental history. My intent is to discover where the inmate left off, as it were, prior to his incarceration, because I will need to assist him with the building of skills he needs to catch up. I find that I tend to focus on assessing his fund of knowledge, level of education, work skills, personal traits, interpersonal relationships, emotional maturity, morality and ability to access and use community resources. This is important for two general reasons. First, I do not want to assume that the individual has learned or can apply some essential function that he may never have been taught. Something that is a given for me, lets say job interview etiquette, may not be for him. Second, some aspects of a person's developmental growth and/or daily living skills seem to stall during the period of incarceration. Therefore, it is quite possible that a 30-year old who has been incarcerated since age 18 may, upon parole, identify most strongly with the struggles of those 12 years his junior. This experience can be frustrating and embarrassing. Repeat violators also report feelings of hopelessness and uselessness soon after each parole. These feelings, when combined with the inescapable forestalling of certain personal growth during incarceration, seem to lead unprepared inmates towards failure on parole.
Third, I work with the inmate to develop treatment goals. Both short and long term goals are developed. If acute mental health or crisis symptoms exist, those are of primary importance and need to be resolved before any rehabilitative goals are addressed. In their absence, or resolution, we work to create goals that address self-understanding, emotional growth, skill building and parole planning.
Fourth, we engage in treatment, which always involves aspects of psychoeducation, therapy and ‘homework' assignments. I tend to assign my therapy patients tasks to complete outside of the actual therapy session. This keeps them engaged in the treatment throughout the week and is a good training tool for building self-motivation, accountablity and persistence - all of which are skills that they will need to succeed on their own upon parole. I always ask the inmate to create a detailed plan for parole, including living arrangements, employment, community resources, etc., when he is ‘short to the house', or ready to parole. We also revisit goals and, when needed, revise them throughout the course of treatment.
Finally, treatment is terminated.
The nature of my job precludes me from really knowing if my inmate/patients succeed upon parole - if they have in fact become productive members of society. At present, I must assess my success rate, so to speak, based solely upon those improvements made prior to release. And, in review, I do feel that I have seen a great deal of improvement in the men who are really willing to engage in therapy. I can only hope that they successfully transitioned to the streets.