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Changing Prisons in Virginia

Spectrum has joined with the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) in an important experiment with the potential of impacting prison systems throughout the country by reframing the mission and function of prisons. A powerful combination of circumstance has aligned in Virginia where Spectrum Health Systems operates a 1,080 bed Therapeutic Community treatment program at Indian Creek Correctional Center (ICCC) -- a mission specific institution and one of the few and largest treatment dedicated prisons in the country. The VADOC is committed to reform and has shown strong interest in re-envisioning ICCC into a robust “Launchpad” that maximizes inmates’ opportunities for success. The VADOC has evolved a strong network of community agencies that are dedicated to support successful inmate reentry providing a well-suited environment for the new prison “prototype.”

The VADOC held a meeting to re-envision the Indian Creek Therapeutic Community on May 26, 2016. The meeting was chaired by Mr. Dudley Bush, the Administrator of Cognitive and Reentry Services for the VA DOC, where I presented a review of ICCC TC program and related rehabilitation services along with challenges and recommendations. Meeting participants included a mix of high level representatives from VADOC and other government and community agencies. The meeting provided a valuable opportunity to share information and to better understand the internal and community resources available to support the restructuring of Indian Creek.

There is an opportunity to create a “national model” for correctional rehabilitation that can serve as a major influence for future “successful” prisons. Such an effort requires a meaningful response to the question: why prisons are typically so unsuccessful with exceedingly high recidivism rates? A consensus among criminal justice professionals is that a primary limitation of prison programming is that it does not adequately prepare inmates for successful reentry and is often disconnected from the external community. The group discussed the development of a prototype of a prison Launchpad that could serve as a national model by coordinating and integrating community reentry resources into the daily rehabilitation and recovery services at ICCC.

ICCC has a clear advantage since it is already has an effective dedicated therapeutic community operated by Spectrum Health Systems that utilizes many of the tools and dynamics well-suited to developing a revised prison TC or “prison TC 2.0” that can serve as a hub or organizing component for the Launchpad. The TC 2.0 will help facilitate the integration of prison-based recovery with expanded in-prison educational and vocational training along with community resources, providing pathways to successful employment that is essential to successful reentry.

The ICCC meeting was responsive to the suggestion that an entrepreneurial framework that guides and encourages a perspective marked by imagination, initiative, and readiness to undertake new projects can facilitate such an innovative undertaking. An entrepreneurial perspective can facilitate and support positive change throughout the system including the DOC, Spectrum, inmates and staff, educational and vocational training groups, community service organizations and business, etc. To implement an entrepreneurial atmosphere and framework that invites and facilitates resident’s involvement in program enhancements and shifts attention from jobs to career preparation and continuation in reentry.

Progress with the Launchpad experiment and development of the revised Prison TC 2.0 model will be reported in future blogs.

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