By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
One way the Mississippi Department of Corrections works to reduce recidivism is provide a course that teaches soft-skills and pro-social behaviors.
The Thinking For a Change course graduated its second class at the ICC Belden campus this month.
James Johnson, associate director of community corrections, said the ultimate goal is to reduce the state’s already low repeat offender rate by changing the way offenders think about problem solving and stressful situations.
The program is a part of MDOC’s post-release supervision programs.
“It goes back to social learning,” he said. “I grew up in a pro-social environment and learned through family, friends and school programs. Many offenders don’t grow up in these environments. Just like you can learn these bad problem solving skills, we can teach good ones.”
Johnson said the offenders in these courses have to work together to solve problems and are given a path toward job training and GED programs along the way.
He said extended incarceration often helps to create the problems that breed the anti-social behaviors they are trying to change.
“It’s all connected,” Johnson said. “They are the same attitudes that lead to teen pregnancy and high dropout rates. It’s self perpetuating.”
Half of Mississippi’s inmate population didn’t finish high school. Since that’s self-reported, the figure could be higher.
The average state inmate reads on a sixth-grade level.
Jartavious Jones graduated from the most recent Thinking for a Change class.
“It’s a good thing MDOC did for us,” he said. “The things we wanted to do in life, they had in the classroom for us.”
He said with the help of the program he was able to get his GED and get on track to find employment.
“I would say it’s easier to stay out of legal trouble with educational opportunities,” he said. “It’s better to go on and get your GED while you’re out in the world than wait until you’re incarcerated.”
Jones said he probably would have avoided incarceration altogether had he stayed in school or gotten a GED.
Marcus Cherry, another recent graduate of the program, said not only do you learn better problem-solving skills and have more opportunities, “It just got me around a positive crowd of people,” he said. “And if you’re getting your education, you’re busy, you’re constantly doing activities and staying out of trouble.”
Johnson said they hope with this program to reduce recidivism and in some cases help keep families together and break the cycles that lead to anti-social and criminal behavior.
“With the right programs, you can get better results than from just locking someone up,” he said.