Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WA prison program helps inmates with intellectual disabilities learn basic skills, self-awareness

One Washington state prison has developed an innovative approach for improving services for inmates with intellectual disabilities, a population often subject to manipulation and abuse. As this local article reports:

For people with low intellectual function or a traumatic brain injury, life in prison can be scary. Amy Czerwinski, a health care manager for the Department of Corrections, designed the Skill Building Unit with her team.


It’s in a storage space that has been converted into a learning environment. An elaborate Halloween display of pumpkins and gourds line the beige walls, reminiscent of an elementary school classroom.


At a long table mental health counselor Nikki Rymer, helps two inmates complete workbook exercises designed to help build self-awareness and self-respect. Inmates also participate in basic skills classes, like dental hygiene.


The environment is so unlike prison, it’s almost easy to miss the two corrections officers keeping watch in a glass enclosed booth in the corner.


Angela Browne, of the Vera Institute of Justice, thinks that an alternative like this unit is in everyone’s best interest. “Anytime there’s an acute incident that’s money. And segregation uses so much space. So in the long run it’s in the state’s interest. It’s in the taxpayer’s interest,” she said.


Browne says by looking for alternatives to segregation specialized units like the one at WCC are helping to flip the paradigm for some inmates.


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