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Program targets criminal thinking

February 27, 2006|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

The inmate population of the Franklin County Prison complex last week was 354, a number Warden John Wetzel expects will start to decline in advance of the opening of a new 470-bed prison a year from now.

By early April, some criminal offenders who might otherwise go to prison, or spend more time behind bars, will instead be assigned to the Franklin County Day Reporting Center, where they will take part in programs designed to change the criminal thinking that got them there in the first place.

"The Day Reporting Center is not a get out of jail free program," said Kim Eaton, who was hired by the county last year as the center's program director.

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"They need to change the way they think in order to change the way they behave," she said.

"I'm not a social worker who lets people off very easily," said Eaton, a Waynesboro, Pa., resident who ran a group home for girls in Maryland before coming to work for the county. "We need to expect a lot from people, so if we rise the bar, they'll come up to meet it."

The county recently leased a former car dealership at 550 Loudon St., which is now being remodeled for the program, Eaton said. The county has contracted with Behavioral Interventions Inc. of Boulder, Colo., to hire case managers, client administrators and therapists, she said.

Offenders will receive cognitive behavioral therapy, more specifically moral reconation therapy, Eaton said. Conation, she said, is a 19th century word meaning "the meeting of the mind and ethics" and the goal is to make that connection in the minds of offenders.

The goal of moral reconation therapy, or MRT, Eaton said, "is reaching normal ... so they can deal with day-to-day situations" without resorting to lying, stealing, drug use and other criminal behavior.

Although one purpose of the center is to reduce jail overcrowding, Eaton said the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of repeat offenders. More than 150 studies have suggested that MRT is effective in reducing recidivism, she said.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," said Eaton. The end result of MRT is to change that pattern of thinking in offenders.

Wetzel said the recidivism rate at the county prison has declined 10 percent in four years, but is still 53 percent, meaning more than half of the 2,200 people committed to the jail last year had been there before.

"Some of the people that traditionally come here, like probation and parole violators, will go there instead," Wetzel said.

The design of the new $30 million prison, he said, was based on having the day reporting center. Otherwise, the county could have been looking at a 670-bed prison costing at least $10 million more, Wetzel said.

Offenders assigned to the center will be assessed for a treatment plan that they must complete to be successful, Eaton said. In most cases, that will take about six months, she said.

People beginning the program will initially report to the center six days a week for random drug testing, treatment, classes and other services. As they progress through their treatment plan, the number of days they report is reduced to five, then three and then to several times a month, she said.

Eventually, the 5,800-square-foot center will be able to accommodate up to 150 clients a day, Eaton said.

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