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Results of three years of research with male and female offenders

Participants are significantly less likely to return to prison

• 59% of the male participants were reincarcerated within six months, as compared to 74% of the control population - representing a 20% reduction in recidivism

• 38% of the female participants were reincarcerated within six months, as compared to 63% of the control population - representing a 40% reduction in recidivism

Participants are more likely to acquire and retain employment

91% of the male participants found employment within a month, as compared to 64% of the control population - and 95% of those participants retained employment, compared to 86% of the control population

92% of the female participants found employment within a month, as compared to 86% of the control population - and 92% of those participants retained employment, compared to 75% of the control population

Over the past several years, the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) has placed increasing emphasis on successful transition to the community. Offenders frequently lack successful work histories and, in some cases, may have never held jobs or paid taxes. Offenders under the care and custody of the DOC often lack the social, cognitive, and work-related skills necessary to succeed as members of the Vermont community.

The correctional environment does not always lend itself to the focused and intentional development of these skills in everyday institutional life, although research clearly indicates that offenders who obtain the necessary skills to find and maintain work have a much higher likelihood of success. Research also indicates that using a strength-based approach – focusing on offender strengths and successes – promotes a greater degree of collaboration between staff and offenders and allows for a greater degree of positive influence.

In the fall of 2003, Vermont DOC was awarded a three-year federal research and demonstration grant of $1,000,000 from the US Department of Education. These funds originate from the USDE Life Skills for State and Local Prisoners Program (84.255A), which provided financial assistance to establish and operate programs to reduce recidivism by developing and improving adult prisoners’ life skills. The Life Skills Program in Vermont, called the Workforce Development Partnership (WDP), was structured to reach offenders with poor work histories and the highest risk to re-offend (assessed with Level of Service Inventory [LSI] scores over 23).

The WDP is expressly designed to focus attention on the development of social and life skills in every day institutional life by using common language and methodologies in three distinct areas of the participants’ institutional world:

• the living unit – facility unit staff
• the classroom – Community High School of Vermont (CHSVT) faculty
• the work environment – Vermont Offender Work Programs (VOWP) staff

The WDP was designed by faculty and staff, with input from offenders, to teach offenders fundamental life skills using a unique, holistic approach that immerse participants in educational, work, and living unit settings that use a strength-based approach that supports offender development. This strength-based approach is built on the understanding and use of 16 aspects of behavioral intelligence, or life skills that increase the participants’ ability to effectively solve problems. These 16 Habits of Mind are detailed in a series of four books, Habits of Mind: A Developmental Approach, edited by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick. The Habits of Mind were used to create a curriculum for CHSVT students, as well as training materials in strength-based supervision for faculty and staff working with WDP participants.

In essence, participants interact with correctional staff, teachers, work supervisors and each other in a focused and intentional way. By collaboratively using the Habits of Mind, faculty and staff support and enhance the participant's social and life skills development in their home, school and work environments. Using the common language of the Habits of Mind, the faculty and staff model, teach, supervise, communicate and evaluate participants in their daily lives within the walls of the correctional facilities.

The three-year federal research/demonstration grant was initially put into practice at three state correctional facilities in Windsor, Newport and St. Albans. Specific living units at Newport and St. Albans were designated for the male participants. WDP participants also enrolled in CHSVT classes and worked for VOWP (a sheet metal shop in Windsor, a furniture shop in Newport and a print shop in St. Albans). The grant was designed to:

• Address offender transition and re-entry issues and assist with career planning and employment efforts
• Decrease recidivism by twenty-five percent
• Increase offender success as measured by stable employment, stable residence, support of dependents and volunteer service in the community

The remarkably encouraging results of the initial three-year research project are described in detail in the federal grant report form, and two summaries of offender-specific goals and organizational culture submitted to the US Department of Education in December 2007. Over time, we hope that the WDP will help participants become valuable members of the workforce, paying taxpayers and individuals with greater purpose in life.

For additional background describing the initial three-year research project and its applications of the Habits of Mind and strength-based supervision, see:
16 Habit of Mind. After Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind: A Developmental Series (2000).

Habits of Mind: A Curriculum for Community High School of Vermont Students. Based on Habits of Mind: A Developmental Series by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick (2000). Curriculum by Bethany Johnson, ReCycle North, Burlington, Vermont, Merryn Rutledge, Revisions, Burlington, Vermont, Margaret Poppe, Collaborations, Burlington, Vermont. Revised by Vermont Consultants for Language and Learning, Montpelier, Vermont. 2005.

Research Demonstration Project. Workforce Development Program, Vermont Department of Corrections. Funded by US Department of Education, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, Corrections Education, “Life Skills for Prisoners”. Published June 2005, Revised January 2007.

Strength-Based Supervision: Supportive Authority, Intentional Interventions, and Habits of Mind. Written by Chico Martin and Diane Robie with contributions from Joe Aldrich, John Gorczyk, Brian Bilodeau, Christine Leslie, and Dana Lesperance. Developed in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Corrections by Vermont Consultants for Language and Learning (dba) Nine East Network, Montpelier, Vermont. December 1, 2006.

U.S. Department of Education Grant Performance Report (ED 524B) for the Vermont Department of Corrections Life Skills for State and Local Prisoners Programs Grant. Submitted to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), US Department of Education, December 2007.

Vermont’s Workforce Development Program Evaluation: Offender-Specific Goals. Submitted to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), US Department of Education, December 2007.

Vermont’s Workforce Development Program Evaluation: Organizational Culture. Submitted to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), US Department of Education, December 2007.