Extension helps corrections improve inmate transition

May 2, 2003

CORVALLIS - A new educational simulation tool developed jointly by the Oregon State University Extension Service and the Oregon Department of Corrections is helping inmates released from confinement make smoother transitions to life in society.

The "Inmate Transition Simulation" is now a standard part of all in-service training programs for the ODOC and will be delivered to all 3,500 of the department's staff members working in Oregon's 12 adult prisons. It is modeled after the OSU Extension Service's Poverty Simulation used to raise public awareness of poverty and its costs to society.

"Just as the Poverty Simulation is intended to recreate a realistic poverty experience for participants, the Inmate Transition Simulation is designed to realistically simulate the challenges inmates face when they are released from confinement and return to Oregon communities," said Sally Bowman, OSU Extension Service family development specialist.

The Poverty Simulation is a two-hour workshop in which participants play the roles as family members or representatives of community agencies or organizations. Then each family is given an envelope of "resources" and the simulated struggle for survival begins. Each 15-minute segment of the workshop represents one week.

The Inmate Transition Simulation uses the same format, but participants play the roles of inmates recently released to the community rather than individuals living in poverty.

"The Inmate Transition Simulation is one of the educational tools we use as part of the department's focus on public safety, transition and release preparation for inmates," said Cynthia Cain, program services manager at the ODOC Snake River Correctional Institution, Ontario.

"The Inmate Transition Simulation is being used to raise awareness and empathy among ODOC prison staff about what transitioning inmates go through as they adjust to life on the outside," Cain said.

ODOC staff became interested in the simulation two years ago when Bowman conducted a Poverty Simulation workshop in Salem for a group of state agency administrators.

"Successful transition from confinement back to the community is a very tough task for many inmates," said Cain. Oregon has a 30 percent recidivism rate - the percentage of inmates convicted of a new felony within three years of release from prison.

"The top ODOC priority is public safety, particularly to maintain the security of our prisons and the safety of our communities," Cain added. "The department also emphasizes doing as much as possible to help released inmates prepare to be successful citizens on the outside and avoid re-offending."

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Sally Bowman, Cynthia Cain