Program gives criminals tools to change their lives

A program designed to rehabilitate criminal offenders by changing the way they think and behave is now being offered to Washington County offenders.

“Thinking for a Change,” or “T4C,” was developed by The National Institute of Corrections in 1997 and has been used by the Adult Parole Authority for several years, said Katrina Ransom, regional administrator for the Ohio Adult Parole Authority.

“It’s not new to our department, but it just recently opened for local use,” said Ransom of the program, which can be used by current inmates and parolees.

Washington County Adult Parole Authority Supervisor Leslie Linscott recently completed the training to facilitate the program and has already graduated two students from the its first Washington County class. The National Institute of Corrections funds the course materials and training.

“Leslie has really seen nothing but positive outcomes with the offenders,” said Ransom.

The 26-week course is offered once a week and teaches skills like managing anger, making better decisions, managing finances and problem solving to name a few, said Ransom.

The class allows for discussion and has offenders model the lessons on their real life situations, she said.

“But you don’t just sit around and talk about the problems these offenders have had. We teach them a new skill that helps them replace how they behaved before with more pro-social actions,” said Ransom.

Washington County judges have been taking note of the new program, using it as an additional offender rehabilitation option during sentencing. Often it’s used in conjunction with a sentence of jail time, community control or counseling.

“From my perspective it’s a tool,” said Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth. “We don’t have a lot of tools and a lot of resources for counseling and halfway houses. So if it helps people make better choices and stay out of our courtrooms, I’m going to order an assessment.”

The program is different than some of the other options for offenders because it focuses on multiple issues, added Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane.

“You can’t just focus on the addiction. You’ve also got to address how offenders handle interpersonal relationships, their educational deficiencies and their unemployment,” he said.

Many available programs address specific needs. For example, SEPTA focuses mainly on employment skills for offenders and counseling services mainly address addiction. What is unique about “T4C” is that it gets to the root of why people make any number of decisions, and then tries to alter the motivation behind bad decisions, said Ransom.

“We get a lot of offenders that tell us ‘I don’t know what I was thinking,’ but that’s not true. There’s a reason that drives your behavior,” she said.

The program typically targets offenders who score as a moderate to high risk for recidivism on the Ohio Risk Assessment System.

According to a 2009 assessment of the program by the National Institute of Corrections, those offenders that participated in “T4C” had a recidivism rate 15 percent lower than a comparison group that did not take the classes.

Linscott recently started two new sessions of the 26-week program. One class includes five females and the other includes nine males.

Ransom said she expects the program will continue to grow in Washington County.

“Once the momentum gets going, you see the numbers start to pick up,” she said.