School Program Helps Kids Stay Out of Prison
(Click on image for larger diagram.)
Spokane’s community intervention approach
introduces SRT in a grassroots fashion across school districts and community
systems to reach youth and their parents throughout the community.
Nancy Jahns felt like she was accomplishing good things, but
that it was too littleand a little too late.
Jahns, a corrections officer in Spokane, WA, teaches a cognitive
behavioral programming course that has had good results, but
she kept feeling that something more could be done. Inmates
told her they wished they had had the program before they got
into trouble, and so the inspiration hit for refining the program
for the classroom.
"It just made common sense," Jahns said. She reasoned
that if the curriculum used in prisons was reducing recidivism,
a similar curriculum for schools could reduce truancy and other
problems and ultimately help prevent youth from entering the
The theory proved correct. As part of a Weed and Seed strategy,
the Washington State Department of Corrections designed and
launched the Spokane Youth for Social Responsibility (SYSR)
project in 2001 in partnership with the Spokane Sheriff's
Community Oriented Policing Effort, Spokane schools, and Edgecliff
Community of Spokane. SYSR is an integrated approach to intervention
that addresses pressing issues in the school environment such
as truancy, drugs, and violence when they first arise.
SYSR's main component is the social responsibility training
(SRT) curriculumnow used in almost every school in Spokanewhich
is designed to reduce risk factors and enhance social, moral,
and behavioral reasoning. SRT is based on moral recognition
therapy, a leading corrections program. Its exercises are designed
to alter how students think and how they make judgments and
decisions about right and wrong and to promote actions and
behaviors focused on changing negative relationships.
The project was easy to implement and cost effective, Jahns
said. SYSR combined existing corrections and educational staff
and other resources at startup and used $9,800 in Weed and
Seed grant funds to deliver SRT in classrooms.
Just as moral recognition therapy has shown success over
the years (some studies have shown overall recidivism is cut
by 3060 percent during the 5 years following treatment
and by 2430 percent over 610 years), so too has
SRT demonstrated remarkable changes in some of Spokane's
most challenging schools.
In its pilot year, SRT was offered in two high schools. Ferris
High experienced a reduction in short-term suspensions, and
Spokane Valley Alternative High, notorious for violence and
unruly student behavior, had even more dramatic results. It
had previously reported two to three fights and regular law
enforcement contacts weekly, with only five students completing
full credits the entire year. With SRT as a base program, there
were no fights and only two nonschool-related arrests. In addition,
59 students completed full credits that year.
There have been "amazing changes" in some students
in a short time, according to Carole Meyer, the principal at
Havermill High School. The data collected by the school shows
significant gains in grade point averages (including one student
who went from a 0.5 to a 3.1 grade point average), reduced
truancy, and reduced referrals to the principal's office.
And people are constantly calling Meyer about the program.
With SRT, "kids take responsibility for their own lives," Meyer
said. "We haven't found anything to match this
program in quality."
SYSR also offers the SRT classes to the Spokane Juvenile Truancy
Court as an alternative to detention for truant students, helping
these high-risk youth to reestablish ties to school. Other
pilot programs are now beginning, including truancy alternative,
parent class, and new detention programs. The Corrections Learning
Network, which produces programs for correctional television,
is planning a video series to help incarcerated parents learn
how to build and maintain relationships with their children.
Jahns suggested that other Weed and Seed sites could arrange
trainings with their Corrections Learning Network sites.
SYSR also is expanding to Indian country. Jahns noted that
special training is available to facilitators, and the curriculum
is easy to adapt to include cultural issues.
Jahns said SYSR's success shows that corrections can
take a supportive role in future community efforts to help
initiate preventative programs. She believes the steps to take
in the future have to be a little bigger than they have been
in the past.
"We've been nurturing," she said. "This
population needs more."
For further information, contact:
Corrections officer in Spokane, WA
Principal at Havermill High School in Spokane, WA