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Counseling Center launches program aimed at treating offenders
Jon Huenink believes Missouri's prison system needs reform.
Since 1982 the state's population has grown by 24 percent while the prison population has increased by about 400 percent. Coupled with the increase is an annual cost of $16,432 for each of the state's 29,857 prisoners.
"That's pretty startling," said Huenink, who has 32 years of experience in the field of criminology and community-based correctional programming. "We're doing something that's not working. While I believe that some people do need to be locked up forever, we have a lot of people institutionalized who don't need to be."
The solution, Huenink said, may lie in a new forensic intervention and prevention initiative introduced by the Community Counseling Center. The program is designed to help recently paroled individuals adjust to life and receive the mental and drug counseling they need.
Huenink, director of forensic intervention with the center, asserts the effort is designed to treat the cause of dysfunction, not the symptoms.
"I believe this could reduce our prison population by 10,000 and put them in a community-based regimen," Huenink said. "Plus, in these tough economic times we're having it would save the taxpayer thousands of dollars.
"This is a no-brainer," he said. "Community-based programs don't cost; they pay."
The program has four sections that clients must complete: anger management, outpatient substance abuse, positive thinking and domestic violence. All of the programs are 12 to 26 weeks.
The anger management and impulse control sections examine social roles and conditioning that contribute to violent behavior. Clients learn to identify negative thinking, express negativity appropriately, accept responsibility for actions and emotions, and develop self-control while fostering respect and empathy for others.
Outpatient substance abuse treatment and intervention helps those in need of counseling because of alcohol and drug-related traffic offenses or other substance abuse-related crimes and issues. Clients may be required to complete 10 to 12 classes for alcohol and drug awareness and 12 to 16 classes for first-time driving while intoxicated or drug offenses. Those with recurrent problems may be required to attend as many as 26 sessions.
The positive thinking course is designed to help clients make more constructive choices, including improved decision-making skills before committing criminal or anti-social acts. Clients are coached on how to recognize and dismiss destructive thought patterns before the ideas are transformed into criminal acts.
The final part of the program, domestic violence intervention, is a 24-week course that involves a group process in which dialogue provides an opportunity for clients to think critically about their use of violence in relationships.
Clients who participate in the program will undergo random drug and alcohol testing and conduct progress reports throughout their time in the program. Unexcused client absences will be reported to their parole officer.
The fee to participate in the program varies based on income. Fees range from no cost for those making less than $5,000 a year to $35 a week for clients earning $30,001 and more.
In late August the Community Counseling Center submitted a request with the Missouri Department of Corrections for a $300,000 grant for funding that would serve clients in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Perry, Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois counties.
Huenink said he hopes to learn of the department's decision by the end of the month.
Already two counties have hosted meetings with clients of the program. Since August, 24 clients in Madison County and four in Perry County have participated in the program.
"This puts all of these programs under one roof," said Dr. Sharon Braun, a program development specialist with the center. "That makes it more comprehensive and much more manageable."
For more information on the program, call 339-6107.
402 South Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO