Correction News

August 2000

Think Before You Act

By Pamela Walker

VANCEBORO- When you enter the halls of Craven Correctional Institution you may wonder why you see both staff and inmates walking around with their fingers resting on their temples. They’re doing this because they are thinking before they act, a direct result of a relatively new program at the facility called Cognitive Behavioral Intervention (CBI).

What Is CBI?

CBI is a training program designed to help people become more aware of themselves and why they react to certain things as they do. Studies show behavior is influenced by the way one thinks and criminal behavior is often the result of an erroneous thought process. CBI can bring about changes in the thought process, helping many offenders better interact with people socially.

Participants in a CBI program can learn how to better understand their attitudes and expectations. It also can create an awareness of the consequences of abusive or criminal actions. Ultimately, research shows CBI helps people deal with behaviors that lead them to commit crimes. Nicole Sullivan, CBI grant administrator and research and evaluation analyst for the Department, looks at it this way, "We are all just one bad decision away from the other side."

How CBI Is Being Used Throughout The Department

The Governor’s Crime Commission awarded the two-year CBI training project grant to the Department in July 1998. The grant funds have been used to buy materials and for training of staff. In addition, the Department offered training opportunities to community college instructors to deliver CBI in prison facilities and community correction settings. Although the grant ended June 30, about 200 people have been trained and CBI programs are in use at 28 prisons, 19 probation/parole offices, the two IMPACT units and 22 criminal justice partnership programs.

These programs are using one or more of the five CBI curriculums. They are Thinking for a Change (TFAC), Cognitive Behavior Change (modified TFAC), Reasoning & Rehabilitation, Problem Solving Skills for Offenders, and Choices and Changes.

The National Institute of Corrections put together the curriculum and training manuals for the Thinking for a Change program. A panel of experts in cognitive behavioral intervention developed the curriculum. The most widely used, TFAC, is comprised of 22 lessons with a capacity to extend the program indefinitely.

Craven Undergoes Total Immersion

While most of the prisons or divisions are using CBI with offenders, Craven has undergone what they call "total immersion." Gwen Gordon, assistant superintendent of programs, explains, "We decided to first train every staff member and then we started implementing the program in the (inmate) population." In addition, everywhere you look in the facility there are posters that reinforce the basis of CBI: to think before you act.

Gordon decided to bring CBI to Craven after sitting in on an orientation presented by Sullivan and her staff. She enlisted the help of Joan t’Jong, staff psychologist; Teresa Marsh, staff psychologist; Sunny Street, social worker; Janice Bills, case analyst and Larrie Dombos, program assistant.

"Our goal has been to make sure every person who spends any time in our facility reaps the benefits from CBI," said Gordon. In return, Gordon said she feels like Craven has reaped all the benefits and that it can only get better. Overall, since they started the program a year ago, there are 50 percent fewer disciplinary infractions, as well as a significant decrease in grievances.

The group says the benefits go even further. "It opens doors for other changes," said Street. "I’ve experienced less helplessness on the part of the inmates. They are willing to take responsibility for what happens to them." Others on the Craven staff echoed that sentiment saying CBI may not be the answer to everything, but it should be considered one important step toward reducing recidivism.

They would like to see the program extended statewide, throughout the Department. "We are just the primer coat," said t’Jong. "If it is going to be successful, inmates should be able to continue in the program wherever they are sent to fulfill their sentences." Dombos said, "We should also think about extending some form of the program in our schools."

Not only is the team enthusiastic about CBI, but so are many of the inmates. Bills told a story of an inmate using cue cards from the program in one of her classes. "He asked me if he could have some extra cue cards to send home to his girlfriend," said Bills. They also say that some inmates about to be promoted asked if they could postpone their move until they finish CBI.

Gordon says Craven could not have had such success without the support of Supt. David Chester. Chester added he’s seen more enthusiasm and a difference in attitudes at the facility since the program started. He has some advice for other prisons or divisions considering starting the program or a similar one, "It takes commitment and must be nurtured and reinforced. You have to plan ahead and map out exactly how you want to implement the program and figure out whether you can handle it financially and with the staff you have available."

Probationers Take Part In CBI

Some probationers assigned to the Day Reporting Center in Iredell have been taking part in CBI classes since its implementation there last fall. Intensive Officer George Pettigrew and Kristin Tambini, Day Reporting Center director, started the program there. They use the "Thinking For A Change" format.

"It has been working out very well," said Pettigrew. "We finally feel like we have something that is helping probationers." He added, "They’re bringing their books to class, they’re doing their homework and they’ve been speaking up in class, which says to me they’re getting something out of it."

The probationers volunteer for CBI to comply with their obligations of taking classes at the Day Reporting Center. The instructors teach a total of three classes a week for three months.

Pettigrew said they hope to expand the classes to staff. "We would like to get more officers trained because they seem to be getting something out of it too."

CBI Continues Without Grant

Even though the grant has expired, Sullivan says the program will continue and can be expanded. There are a number of Correction staff who have become "master trainers." These people are able to take other staff or community college instructors through the training so they in turn can teach the programs. In addition, Sullivan says she hopes to start using CBI in training for new officers. She summed up the program this way: "We all have different values, belief systems and backgrounds. The goal of CBI is not to change that, but to help us examine our attitudes and improve communication with others. It’s the cornerstone to rehabilitation efforts.

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