Being a mentor equipped with tools that will make not only my life better, but to impart these skills to other men is the greatest. CJI’s training let me know just how far I’ve came and where I need to continue on in my mentorship!”
— Training participant
A new initiative launched by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPS&C) is offering specialized training previously reserved for corrections staff to incarcerated individuals designated as peer leaders.
DPS&C first partnered with the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) to provide behavior change training to transition specialists in 2018. CJI’s Group Facilitation teaches cognitive behavioral interventions that leverage long-term behavior change, including skills related to interpersonal interactions, group facilitation, and classroom management.
As part of CJI’s train-the-trainer model, participants practice teaching what they learn to a new audience through a “teach-back” observed by CJI. Staff receive feedback that enables them to improve their delivery. In this way, students learn not only the substantive material, but also how to train others after the CJI-led trainings are complete.
The idea of including incarcerated individuals in this training arose in 2019 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Because all transition specialists across the state had already completed the training, DPS&C leaders and CJI decided to expand the teach-back audience to two groups of peer leaders in the prison population: tutors, who run cognitive behavioral groupwork, and mentors, who support struggling peers.
The teach-back went better than anyone could have imagined. Tutors and mentors were eager to participate and praised the material.
Even though tutors and mentors were familiar with many of the concepts involved in behavior change skills, they had not had the opportunity to explore why those skills worked. Access to the research behind the practice deepened their understanding of, and appreciation for, interventions they were already doing.
“Being a mentor equipped with tools that will make not only my life better, but to impart these skills to other men is the greatest,” said one participant of the training for incarcerated individuals. “CJI’s training let me know just how far I’ve came and where I need to continue on in my mentorship!”
Another participant said the course strengthened his ability to support other incarcerated individuals.
“I’ve been engaging more in empathetic listening and allowing others to the tell their stories and engage prosocial behaviors,” he said.
Tutors and mentors play an invaluable role in promoting behavior change in our facilities. We are thrilled to provide an additional layer of support for the crucial work they do to support their peers.”
— DPS&C Secretary James M. Le Blanc
After this initial success, DPS&C leadership recognized that training additional tutors and mentors would enable them to be more effective in their roles. DPS&C decided to train all tutors and mentors, not only at the penitentiary, but across the entire state. Simultaneously, seeing power in the tutor/mentor model, DPS&C hired a coordinator to expand the program to all facilities statewide.
CJI has tailored its standard group facilitation training to respond specifically to common situations tutors and mentors face when working with other incarcerated individuals.
Trainings for DPS&C staff designated to train tutors and mentors kicked off in July 2021 and wrapped up with a train-the-trainer in February 2022. Trainings for tutors and mentors will begin in June 2022.
This effort has national significance. Cognitive behavioral trainings, which are based on decades of research on what works to reduce recidivism, are typically provided only to counseling staff and correctional officers. In expanding participation to include incarcerated individuals, DPS&C is piloting a novel use of a trusted curriculum. The goal is to increase DPS&C’s capacity to provide research-driven behavioral interventions—and thereby reduce recidivism.
“Tutors and mentors play an invaluable role in promoting behavior change in our facilities,” said DPS&C Secretary James M. Le Blanc. “We are thrilled to provide an additional layer of support for the crucial work they do to support their peers.”