Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Promising Practices

Congregate Classroom Programming/Activities

Agency

Washington State Department of Corrections

Brief Summary

In 2012 the Washington State Department of Corrections identified that incarcerated people assigned to the department’s highest custody level—Maximum (MAX) custody—were being placed in a restricted housing setting to isolate them from other incarcerated individuals and staff, due to the threat to safety and security they posed. However, once in MAX custody there were very few programs/ processes in place to assist with mitigating the threat they presented and ultimately return them to a general population setting. As a result, the department looked at programming security/restraint chairs available across the country and began to develop classrooms within restricted housing units. These chairs allow programming to be provided efficiently while allowing incarcerated people to interact with other incarcerated people and staff in a secure environment.

Eventually, the department’s Correctional Industries (CI) Division developed a programming security chair which met most identified security and performance needs. Currently, every Intensive Management Unit (IMU) which houses incarcerated men assigned to MAX custody has a dedicated congregate classroom. Each IMU has a specific “mission”. These missions include focusing on hyper violent/ security threat group members, intensive transition from MAX custody to lower custody levels, severe protective custody cases, and severe mental illness. Classroom sizes range from 6-8 programming security chairs. An incarcerated person’s needs/risks are reviewed when they are assigned to MAX custody and they are transferred to the IMU that provides programs designed to best address their needs/ risks. Congregate classroom programming along with other restricted housing reforms assisted the department with reducing the MAX custody population from over 600 in 2011 to under 300 in 2015. The department was able to reduce the MAX custody population while at the same time reducing violence in general population.

The Goal

  • Safely reduce the number of incarcerated people assigned to Maximum (MAX) custody.
  • Provide incarcerated people the tools and awareness to be less violent and make better decisions.
  • Decrease the amount of time incarcerated people spend in MAX custody.
  • Provide access to programming and treatment in Intensive Management Units (IMUs).
  • Improve conditions to incarcerated people assigned to MAX custody.

In 2011 over 600 incarcerated people were assigned to MAX custody. In 2015 less than 300 incarcerated people were assigned to MAX custody. In 2018 the MAX custody population has fluctuated between 350 and 420 incarcerated people.

The Process

Incarcerated people are assigned to Maximum (MAX) custody by a Headquarters Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) when they:
• Present a serious threat to the safety of employees, contract staff, volunteers, or other incarcerated people through a pattern of violence or seriously disruptive behavior;
• Have extreme protection needs that cannot be managed in a general population setting; or
• Have a serious mental illness that that has been deemed to be a safety risk and requires intensive treatment.

The MDT, at a minimum, includes the following positions: mission housing administrator, director of mental health, chief of classification, chief of investigative operations and re-entry administrator.

Incarcerated people assigned to MAX custody are expected to participate in congregate classroom programming based on their current behavior and assessment of their needs/ risks. The MDT takes all factors into consideration and develops expectations that must be met by the incarcerated person to be considered for promotion to a lower custody. Incarcerated people are transferred to an IMU which provides specifically identified programming.

When an incarcerated person is assigned to MAX custody they receive a written custody facility plan (CFP) which identifies required expectations that must be met. Additionally, a classification counselor must meet with an individual within 10 working days of their assignment to MAX custody to explain expectations and answer questions. An example of required expectations include “Develop a behavior and programming plan, obtain and maintain Level 4 and complete the alternatives to aggression program”.

When an incarcerated person meets the expectations that have been required of them, the facility forwards a CFP to the HQ MDT requesting promotion to a lower custody level. The HQ MDT reviews the individual’s case plan and makes a placement decision. Incarcerated people may be promoted to close or medium custody upon completion of placement expectations.

 

The Solution

The following programs are currently provided with the departments’ IMU’s:
Clallam Bay Corrections Center –
Intensive Transition Program (ITP): Classroom time 90 minutes a week for 8 weeks. During week 9, incarcerated people are promoted to close custody and continue program from there.

The goal of ITP is to facilitate positive change within a supportive environment—allowing incarcerated people the time to develop the social skills necessary to successfully live in general population. The three primary focuses are social knowledge; self-awareness; and self-control in order to develop physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually.

Aggression Replacement Training (ART): Classroom time 60 minutes per session, 3 times per week, for 10 weeks. (Replacing Alternatives to Aggression in July 2018)


ART is a research-based cognitive behavioral intervention that features three coordinated components:  social skills training, anger control training, and moral reasoning.  Program participation is mandatory for those who meet entrance criteria and are selected at the time of their MAX custody assignment.

Getting It Right (GIR):  Classroom time 60 minutes a week for 8 weeks.

This program features rational self-counseling, transtheoretical model of change (stage model of change), social learning theory, and interactive journaling to provide structured programming for each individual. Participants make the transition into the community and toward responsible living.

Basic Skills Program:  Classroom time 240 minutes per week.

Along with on-tier time provides instruction for adult incarcerated people in fundamental academic and pre-occupational skills, with an emphasis on reading, math, writing, and basic computer literacy. Booklets and other materials are provided for in-class use.  Students can expect to work on: GED test preparation, college placement test preparation, improving employability and personal growth.

Monroe Correctional Complex –

Aggression Replacement Training (ART): Classroom time 60 minutes per session, 3 times per week, for 10 weeks. (Replacing Alternatives to Aggression in July 2018

ART is a research-based cognitive behavioral intervention that features three coordinated components: social skills training, anger control training, and moral reasoning. Program participation is mandatory for those who meet entrance criteria and are selected at the time of their MAX custody assignment.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 10 weeks

DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy.  DBT reframes your outlook to be in the present moment in order to more effectively work through problem-solving, interpersonal relationships, and general life goals.  The goal of DBT is to develop more effective coping mechanisms, increase distress tolerance, and encourage mindfulness.  Skills learned can be applied to a variety of situations and environments. If you miss three sessions you will be considered for removal from the program.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 12 weeks

ACT group is a psychoeducational class that focuses on increasing the psychological flexibility of participants. Psychological flexibility involves being in contact with the present moment and changing or continuing certain behaviors.  ACT is an empirically based psychological intervention.  Through experiential exercises, participants will have the opportunity to learn how to make healthy contact with thoughts, feelings, memories, and physical sensations that have been feared and/ or avoided.  Participants are introduced to the skills to accept these private experiences, develop greater clarity about personal values, and commit to behavior change.

Mindful Meditation: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 12 weeks

 Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help you gain more calm, clarity, focus, self-discipline, and peace so that you can live the life you want. This class is open to total beginners as well as experienced meditators. Time during class will be spent both in discussion and practicing meditation.

Transition Pod:  Must successfully live on transition pod (Level 5) for a minimum of 8 weeks

 The Transition Pod provides participants with the opportunity to interact with other incarcerated people while out of restraints. Two incarcerated people will be allowed out of cell without restraints per the schedule posted in the unit (at least 5 times per week). The unit schedule will indicate when you will have an opportunity to eat, shower, and take recreation out of your cell without restraints.

Special Offender Unit (SOU)

Incarcerated people assigned to MAX custody at SOU are encouraged to participate in psychotherapeutic/ psychoeducational congregate activities. Participation in congregate activities is a component that is considered during step and custody promotions. These activities are often outlines in a Mental Health Treatment Plan (MHTP).

Seeking Safety: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 10 weeks

 Seeking Safety is a class that provides settings for incarcerated people who have suffered from trauma and/ or substance abuse. It helps incarcerated people establish a safety model that they can follow and focus on other areas in life in order to continue with overall progress. Such treatment is helpful for incarcerated people to also gain insight of their major vulnerabilities and prepare them to handle implications that are part of their trauma/ addiction.

Wellness: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 9 weeks

 Wellness was developed to help incarcerated people gain insight about various symptoms and how to manage the symptoms. It elicits conversations about what you do to ensure you take good care of yourself. It discusses coping skills, how to effectively use those coping skills, and other pertinent elements of wellbeing.

Transition Group: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week. Class does not have a duration and is open ended

 Offered to incarcerated people that have achieved Level 4 and 5. This is a revolving group that includes incarcerated people who are preparing for graduation from the ITS program. Transition Group brings relevant issues about what it entails to transition back into general population-like settings. It elicits a conversation about the increasing levels of responsibilities associated with less restrictive custody levels. Individuals are required to participate and complete at least eight group sessions in order to be deemed appropriate for promotion.

Anger Management: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 12 weeks

Anger Management helps incarcerated people identify triggers and understand how to deal with difficult situations. In addition, it focuses on finding ways to remain calm and collective. It also focuses on the importance of dealing with issues that upset incarcerated people in a healthy way, rather than in a self-destructive way.

Positive Psychology: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week for 12 weeks

The premise of Positive Psychology centers on the idea that everyone has deficits. Incarcerated people can learn from and overcome these deficits through focusing on the positives. Incarcerated people are also encouraged and challenged to identify their strengths in order to create a purposeful life.

Creative Writing: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week. Class does not have a duration and is open ended.

Creative Writing is an open and revolving group that is scheduled on Saturdays. It allows incarcerated people to brainstorm on a topic and explore ideas rooted in positivity. It is intended to foster a positive environment conducive to helping incarcerated people reflect on experiences.

Chess Club: Classroom time 60 minutes per session, once per week. Class does not have a duration and is open ended.

Chess club is split into two groups, beginner and advanced. Incarcerated people learn the strategy of chess and play chess with each other. They also learn to properly evaluate the consequences of decisions.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center –

Redemption Self Awareness: Classroom time 90 minutes twice a week for 10-13 weeks.

The Redemption Project is a program that was designed as a collaborative effort between DOC staff and incarcerated people who had a desire to create a safer environment both within the prison system and in the community. Redemption is a self-sustaining program which is facilitated by general population incarcerated people.

Days and a Get Up: Classroom time 120 minutes twice a week for 10 weeks.

The 99 Days and a Get Up program helps prepare incarcerated people for life outside of the prison walls. This is done through motivation, raising issues that need to be addressed, and offering reassurance and support to people as they work to achieve five years of arrest-free living. This program is essentially a behavioral road map that aids incarcerated people as they finish their prison sentences and ultimately navigate the challenges of reentering their communities.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Classroom time 120 minutes once a week/ (3) 8 week modules.

A group that provides learning of basic DBT skills. DBT skills are within three modules: interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. Core of mindfulness is taught at the beginning of each module.

Standardized Stress and Anger Management (SSAM):  In-cell 9-chapter program with pre-test and post-test taking, approximately 6 weeks.

This program is designed to give the student a basic understanding of stress and anger management and provide a variety of coping strategies.  The three main objectives are: 1) Identifying, in general terms, the warning signs of stress and anger; 2) Identifying how each of these signs may apply to each student individually; and 3) Presenting coping strategies that will enable the student to develop a tool kit to deal effectively with the stress and anger that they will encounter in their individual lives. The SSAM program is considered a voluntary program and is coordinated by the IMU CUS and Classification staff.

Chemical Dependency (CD):

The Chemical Dependency treatment group is designed to habilitate incarcerated people in an effort to decrease their level of security risk and increase their interactive skill sets, social cognitive aptitude, and safety for self and others. The curriculum is based on cognitive behavior therapy and has been designed to work with IMU-incarcerated people in recognizing triggers that may lead to relapse and give them the skills to prevent relapse from occurring.

Washington Corrections Center –

Adult Basic Education/GED: Classroom time 60 minutes, twice a week .

Transitional studies including pre-college math, English, and reading. Students are provided educational materials in their cells, meet regularly at their cell-front by instructor to provide additional support and instruction, and are brought to the classroom for testing and instruction.

Washington State Penitentiary –

Aggression Replacement Training (ART): Classroom time 60 minutes per session, 3 times per week, for 10 weeks. (Replacing Alternatives to Aggression in July 2018

ART is a research-based cognitive behavioral intervention that features three coordinated components: Social Skills Training, Anger Control Training, and Moral Reasoning.  Program participation is mandatory for those who meet entrance criteria and are selected at the time of their MAX custody assignment.

Chemical Dependency (CD): Classroom time 90 minutes, four times a week.

The Chemical Dependency treatment group is designed to habilitate incarcerated people in an effort to decrease the level of security risk and increase their interactive skill sets, social cognitive aptitude, and safety for self and others. The curriculum is based on cognitive behavior therapy and has been designed to work with IMU incarcerated people in recognizing triggers that may lead to relapse and give them the skills to prevent relapse from occurring.

Achieving Your Potential (AYP): Classroom time 60 minutes, twice a week, for 8 weeks.

The purpose of this program is to provide an environment that encourages growth and change by assisting mentally ill incarcerated people in learning the skills necessary to promote custody level and live safely in the general population.

Adult Basic Education/ GED: Classroom time is up to 4 hours weekly.

Transitional studies including pre-college math, English, and reading. Students are provided educational materials in their cells, meet regularly at their cell-front by instructor to provide additional support and instruction, and are brought to the classroom for testing and instruction.

In-Cell Cognitive Behavior Change Program (CBCP):  10 Lesson Program/ All Facilities.

This is a class that helps incarcerated people learn about themselves – they will look at their thoughts, their feelings, their behaviors, and how they influence one another. The goal of this class is to help incarcerated people understand and recognize thoughts (cognitions) and/ or feelings that have caused them to behave in ways that got them incarcerated and led to them being housed in IMU.

The Results

We are currently evaluating available data to further improve restricted housing processes and procedures. Initial data has identified:
• Approximately 58 percent of incarcerated people assigned to MAX custody do not recidivate back to MAX custody once they are released.
• An incarcerated person is most likely to return to MAX custody within 3 months of release from MAX custody.
• Recidivism rates back to MAX custody from Medium and Close custody are almost equal.
• On average approximately 60 percent of incarcerated people assigned to MAX custody are affiliated with a security threat group.

Related Documents

This Promising Practices section of the SAS Resource Center was developed as part of a collaborative effort with the Vera Institute of Justice, University of Michigan Law School, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. We are also deeply grateful to the many leaders across the country who created and implemented each of the reforms cited throughout this section for their efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing in prisons and jails across the country.

Please note that Vera and our partners do not specifically endorse the practices and policies included in this section. The Promising Practices section features segregation reforms being implemented in prisons and jails around the country. Our goal is to serve as a resource to other jail and prison systems interested in implementing similar practices and policies by highlighting those jurisdictions that report successful reforms.