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Youth Challenge Program shows promise for reducing violence

January 20, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Maryland Correctional Training Center Warden Mike Stouffer said he thinks a recently implemented program at the Roxbury Road prison will significantly cut down on violence by offenders, both while they are inside the prison and after they are released.

Stouffer said the first wave of the Youth Challenge Program, a counseling and mentoring program started in an effort to deter violent behavior at MCTC, has been an overwhelming success among inmates who have gone through it.

Of the 40 inmates from housing units 6 and 7 who completed the 26-session, 12-week program, which started in July, only one participant had a disciplinary problem in the second half of 2003, Stouffer said. He said the session included some inmates convicted of violent crimes.

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As a result, the second session includes approximately 140 inmates, Stouffer said.

"We're getting some initial positive signs," he said of the inmates in the second session.

Stouffer said he believes the program, developed by members of the MCTC staff and some older inmates there, will have a positive impact on those facing future release.

"It teaches taking responsibility for themselves," Stouffer said. "It helps the recidivism rate and helps keep them for offending."

Stouffer said the collaboration of three groups - the psychology department, the correctional officers/custody staff and older inmates acting as mentors - was key to the early success of the program.

"Some of them (older inmates) didn't like seeing what the younger population was getting into," he said. "These are older inmates who have gone through what the younger guys are going through. They can better identify."

Stouffer said a high number of violent incidents at MCTC was the impetus for the program.

In 2003, there were at least six stabbings at MCTC and numerous minor assaults on correctional officers that resulted in additional criminal charges. Many of the offenses were committed by younger members of the prison's population.

"We had a situation where the number of young offenders was growing," Stouffer said. "As everyone knows, that's a volatile group. It reached a saturation point this spring with a number of incidents that no one was comfortable with."

Stouffer said he hopes the program will continue to build better lines of communication between inmates and staff, give inmates a sense of accomplishment and keep them from having "too much idle time on their hands."

Still, there is "a line that isn't crossed" in the collaboration, and inmates still are treated as inmates, Stouffer said.

"This was just a way to get them involved in something productive and give them something positive to be involved with instead of violence, gang activity, that sort of thing," he said.

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