Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a unique facility here in southern Indiana- the Branchville Correctional Facility. It was an experience that I don’t get to have very often, and wanted to share this eye opening process with you.
If you aren’t familiar with the Branchville Correctional Facility in Perry County, it is a male-only, medium-level security facility with about 1,400 offenders. Having been in operation for over 30 years, this facility does not house any “lifers,” meaning that once their time is served, they will eventually leave the facility and work towards integrating with society hopefully to never return to a facility like that again.
Knowing this, the facility offers numerous programs including Alcoholics Anonymous, GED instruction as well as a faith- and character-based community that encourages offenders to choose alternatives to criminal thinking and behavior by providing a focus on spiritual and character development, life-skills training community service and intentional preparation for living as a law-abiding citizen. They also teach computer skills and offer apprenticeships so that inmates can learn the skills required for specific occupations. Programs like this work to reduce recidivism rates and help with the transition back to a normal life.
One thing that particularly intrigued me though was their Inmate to Workmate Program. In the legislature, we have often debated the merits of punitive or rehabilitative approaches in the criminal justice system but this facility takes rehabilitation to a whole new level: everyone there works!
A great number of the men who enter those walls have never held a job. By having a job during their time in prison, they are able to learn very valuable lessons including interpersonal skills, the responsibility of having somewhere to be each morning, punctuality and how to manage their time to accomplish all of their duties.
Having a job is not something they are just thrown into though. The facility has individuals who teach them not only how to look for jobs but how to apply for those that they’re qualified for. While they are required to disclose their previous offenses, they are taught how to approach the subject without making it the main focus. As they turn their life around, they are taught to display their skills and what they have accomplished since their crime and since doing their time.
I recently saw a study from the RAND Corporation concerning this very topic. They are a nonprofit institution that conducts research and analysis in order to help improve policy and decision making. In August, they conducted a study on inmates who participated in correctional education programs and found that they were 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders than those who did not participate in such programs.
The above and beyond work being done at this facility is something that is going to stay with many of these men for a long time. The things that they are learning are not designed to be temporary behavior but rather it is meant to create a pattern which will continue upon their release, allowing them to truly change their lives.
When it comes to my work at the Statehouse, corrections has not been an issue which I have focused on. Obviously not every prison in our state operates this way, and it may not work in every situation. However when I left this facility, I felt like I had a whole new perspective on the correctional system in Indiana. I was pleased to see so many working on a better future.