Former correction employees’ book critiques Montana’s offender-treatment programs


BOULDER — Editor’s notice: This story is the primary of a two-part sequence on a brand new e book critiquing the Montana Division of Corrections’ administration of remedy applications for legal offenders.

In a e book they co-authored and printed, two former staff at a Montana correctional remedy program for feminine inmates say it was a giant success – however the state shut it down in 2018, partly to satisfy contracts with privately run remedy applications.

The authors, who labored on the Riverside Restoration and Re-Entry Program in Boulder, additionally say the defunct program might and ought to be a mannequin for profitable remedy of felons in Montana, moderately than what they see as applications that over-emphasize punishment.

“We have been very totally different in the truth that we allowed the ladies to make decisions,” stated Rhonda Champagne, the lead counselor at Riverside and a designer of this system. “I feel in different applications, the Division of Corrections doesn’t need that type of relationship.

Rhonda Champagne, former lead counselor on the now-closed Riverside Restoration and Re-entry Program in Boulder.

“They need this hierarchy — `I’m the one in cost, and also you’re going to take heed to what I say.’ I perceive that from a jail perspective, however we have been operating a remedy program.”

“The opposite remedy applications – I don’t wish to counsel that they’re all dangerous,” added Michael Johnson, the co-author of the e book and Riverside’s former housing unit supervisor and safety chief. “However the recidivism charges are too excessive. We might do higher.”

For instance, at Riverside, Champagne insisted that it abandon its coverage of strip-searching girls after they entered this system – a process that’s commonplace in most state correctional applications elsewhere in Montana.

“You’ll be able to’t begin off remedy, for my part, by completely tearing an individual right down to their fundamental nakedness in a most humiliating method,” she stated. “I don’t care how properly you inform anyone to take their garments off – that’s not remedy.”

Johnson and Champagne, who stay in Helena, self-published their e book, “Correcting Remedy in Corrections,” this fall. The 176-page e book recounts the start and improvement of the Riverside Restoration and Re-Entry Program, a 90-day remedy program for girls inmates, and its demise.

Champagne, a licensed scientific social employee, was employed by the state Division of Corrections to assist develop Riverside as a pilot challenge for girls, as a “trauma-informed” remedy program to assist those that’d skilled trauma to recuperate and begin to turn into extra self-sufficient and assured.

Michael Johnson, former safety chief on the now-closed Riverside Restoration and Re-Entry Program in Boulder.

Johnson, who labored 12 years as a correctional officer and counselor for DOC at Riverside earlier than leaving this 12 months, stated working throughout the program modified his life and his thoughts about remedy for legal offenders.

The overwhelming majority of offenders are in jail for non-violent crimes, he stated, and Riverside confirmed him that utilizing remedy as punishment is the mistaken technique to go.

“It was very positive-based,” he stated of the Riverside program. “It was very centered on therapeutic the ladies, versus punishing them, versus breaking them down. By the point they have been heading out the door, they have been extra highly effective than their addictions.”

Lots of the girls in this system have been drug offenders and had undergone vital trauma of their lives: Drug or alcohol dependancy, home abuse, shedding their youngsters, or witnessing a cherished one commit suicide.

The Riverside remedy program, at a state-owned facility on the south fringe of Boulder, started in 2016, at a facility that beforehand housed juvenile feminine offenders.

The subsequent 12 months, Gov. Steve Bullock toured the power with state Corrections Director Reg Michael, and heard residents and workers extol the success of this system. On the time, officers stated they deliberate to broaden the 22-bed facility to 32 beds.

However 16 months later, in September 2018, Corrections official abruptly shut it down, with nearly no discover to staff or girls in this system.

They stated the state already had two remedy applications for girls inmates – run by personal contractors – and didn’t have sufficient want for 3 applications.

In addition they stated the Riverside facility could be reworked to accommodate geriatric inmates who had been staying at a state facility in Lewistown, which was being closed.

State corrections officers initially agreed to be interviewed for this story, however final week canceled these interviews and would reply questions solely in writing.

In a written reply, Deputy Corrections Director Cynthia Wolken stated repurposing Riverside for the older inmates and shifting the ladies there to different applications is saving $2.7 million over a two-year interval – though it additionally value practically $900,000 to rework the power.

Johnson, who labored at Riverside till earlier this 12 months, stated he doubted these financial savings, due to frequent transportation he witnessed of the geriatric inmates from the Boulder facility for medical care in Helena or Butte.

DOC additionally confirmed, in its written feedback, that obligations to the personal contractors performed a job within the closure of the Riverside remedy program.

It stated it had paid not less than $182,000 to the Elkhorn Remedy Middle, a privately run program in Boulder for girls inmates, for beds going unused whereas Riverside was full. Beneath its contract with Elkhorn, DOC should pay for not less than 75 p.c of its mattress house – no matter whether or not the beds are full.

“It was not a superb use of taxpayer {dollars} to open Riverside with out making certain the inhabitants existed to maintain it, and the opposite remedy sources for which the division was obligated,” DOC wrote.

Johnson and Champagne stated they imagine the Riverside remedy program had confirmed to achieve success, and that the state ought to be selecting applications for inmates based mostly on their success – not whether or not they fulfill personal contracts.

Johnson stated DOC information reveals that at Riverside, two-thirds of the ladies who accomplished this system had not returned to jail or jail for greater than a 12 months after leaving it – which DOC thought-about a hit.

When requested how Riverside’s outcomes in comparison with different remedy applications throughout the DOC system, together with privately run applications, the division stated it wouldn’t be an “apples to apple comparability – even when accessible.”

Every program has totally different “threat ranges” of offenders, the division stated, making comparisons not essentially legitimate.

Most contracts the state has with personal nonprofit remedy amenities requires the contractors to trace offender “return charges” and recidivism, or, in different phrases, how usually program graduates return to incarceration.

The division stated it hadn’t “particularly collected” that data, however that the contractors ought to have it.

Johnson and Champagne famous that almost all DOC contracts with personal nonprofits operating remedy and different correctional applications have 20-year phrases, locking within the state no matter a program’s success.

A legislative audit launched this summer time additionally stated DOC has no requirements for evaluating the effectiveness of its a number of contracts for remedy applications.

“These contracts are completely what closed down a program that was doing very effectively and assembly Division of Correction objectives: Decreasing recidivism, re-integrating folks again into the group, efficiently, stronger, overcoming their addictions and traumas,” Johnson stated.

The authors’ web site is

Tomorrow: What’s in these contracts – and the way and whether or not they form correctional coverage.


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