How Prison Educators Transform Themselves Into Value Added Representatives

In beginning a search for the most effective way to influence a change in offender behavior, it is necessary to review a few basic tenets.

  1. No program will help a person who is not sincerely committed to changing their life.
  2. Most criminal offenders are nontraditional learners.
  3. External changes last only as long as a person is under supervision or in custody.
  4. 90% of the offender population made a conscious choice to commit crime.
  5. Offenders need to become adept at measuring the long-term and short-term costs of their actions.

The Value of Values

In order to apply these tenets — to move theory into practice — educators and facilitators must understand the key role that is played by the value system of each offender. The fact is, many offenders have heard the good versus bad rhetoric many times. They are well aware of right and wrong in the eyes of society. The evidence indicates that it’s not that offenders don’t understand the values. It shows instead that, for one reason or another, they see no value in the mainstream system or no place for themselves within it. Put in that light, the focus must shift from the external forces of society to an introspective analysis of the individual.

Value Added

In designing or implementing programs for change, it is helpful to borrow from business the concept of the value-added reseller (VAR). A repetitive drone of the virtues of right versus wrong will not change behaviors. They will be changed when a value is added to the concepts the system is trying to sell. In other words, each offender needs to decide for him or herself that the doors opened through appropriate behavior are worth the immediate cost (change).

This cost analysis begins with an honest look at the values that drive individual offender behavior. For example, an Orange offender might indicate that he or she values drugs. Given the task at hand, it may seem appropriate to respond to this with a consequence statement. That statement however, does not provide the offender a chance to delve into his or her values, joys, needs, and strengths. When invited (or prodded) to dig deeper, he or she will find that it’s not the drugs that hold the value; rather it’s the risk-taking, fun, and freedom that they provide (at least temporarily).

Once down to the basics that drive the behavior, we need to continue to build in introspection and analysis of those driving forces. We need to begin building connections between offender values, behaviors, and goals. Only when we include this value added component, will significant and lasting behavioral change begin to occur.

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