Is Colorado's New Prison Czar Bringing Reform or Business as Usual?
In Missouri Clements oversaw an award Winning prison program called "Parallel Universe." In the April 2001 edition of the magazine Corrections Today, Clements and colleague Dora Schriro co-wrote an article detailing how the program works. According to the article, "Parallel Universe is a corrections-based reentry program. Offenders in Missouri make choices and assume responsibility for their decisions that all have real-world ramifications. With this system, inmates learn to identify community expectations and then reconcile them with their own attitudes. They practice making decisions that do not contravene prison security but, instead, will enhance public safety.''
Prison rehabilitation programs have been in and out of vogue for decades, with most experts agreeing that the majority of U.S. prisons are nothing more than gladiator camps producing better criminals. Missouri's program is different and it seems to be showing significant results.
Parallel Universe focuses on helping inmates develop cognitive and decision making skills that will help them be crime free when they leave prison. The program not only teaches these skills but it allows the inmates to practice and live the skills everyday while in prison, making them habitual behaviors likely to be continued when not incarcerated. The goal is to allow inmates to make many of the same decisions they will have to make in the real world.
Teaching inmates how to make better decisions and to be better citizens may seem like a no-brainer but most prison systems, CDOC included, manage the population by strictly controlling inmates' actions and reducing inmate decision making to a minimum - it is the prison warehouse approach.
The Parallel Universe approach is to first bring inmates up to a basic educational level. Prison administrators nationwide are finding up to two-thirds of inmates don't have their GED or high school diploma and over half are functionally illiterate. To help overcome this educational deficit, Parallel Universe motivates the inmates the same way most are motivated in the real world - the better educated and more skilled an inmate is, the better his earning potential.
In Missouri prisons, jobs and earnings are tied to the Department of Labor's occupational titles and wages. The more skills an inmate has the more and higher paying, jobs he is eligible to apply for. The old system paid a flat rate offering inmates no incentive for their hard work or job skills. In the new system inmates must interview for jobs and receive regular job performance reviews by their correctional supervisors. Inmate wages are based on skill set and job performance, just like it will be when they get out.