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Learning as a Group: The Perspective on Inmate Education Through Occupational Therapy

August 25, 2015

In the Hancock County Justice Center (HCJC) there has been a collaboration to connect inmates with educational opportunities in order to build daily living skills through occupational therapy (OT) programming. “In its simplest terms, occupational therapists help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the use of everyday activities (occupations)." (About Occupational Therapy, 2015). The priority of this programming is for enhancing the educational opportunity of the inmates; however, the collaboration with The University of Findlay OT department has allowed OT students to gain valuable experience as well. Selected OT students from The University of Findlay are provided the opportunity to complete their internships at the HCJC to expand their professional growth as entry-level practitioners into the profession through this non-traditional and innovative fieldwork placement.

OT interns under the supervision of the Clinical Coordinator for Community Based Practice from The University of Findlay facilitate OT groups. During these skill building groups inmates are provided the opportunity to work through 5 weeks of modules. These modules include interpersonal communication, employment, financial management, leisure activities, and housing/support/resource development. In these groups inmates are provided with hands on learning opportunities to develop and enhance skills for the job of everyday living. Upon leaving the OT group, inmates have acquired new and refreshed skills including, but not limited to: a current resume with job skills, assertive communication skills, an active plan for the future, including goal development, budgeting skills, the ability to identify and participate in meaningful activities, and referrals to community agencies and resources that can further assist them with meeting their needs for successful community re-entry.

Like most local jails, the HCJC has been found to be overcrowded and is battling alarming recidivism rates. Through OT programming, the HCJC can offer those incarcerated with a unique opportunity to make positive changes in order to help them achieve becoming productive citizens following their release from incarceration. As an institution, the ultimate goal is focused on positive change for those incarcerated while lessening overall recidivism.

OT allows HCJC to provide inmates with hands-on learning opportunities to help identify, develop and enhance their skill set in order to apply these skills to daily life. Often, we have found those incarcerated struggle with follow through and lack support systems that guide and assist them through troubling times. The OT program builds on and supports all other programming opportunities available to inmates for a greater wrap around approach.

OT makes a difference by improving an inmate’s self-worth. It helps them to develop a plan for release while refocusing their view in order to help them become positive productive citizens. The HCJC staff have noticed that those participating in OT continue to show increased follow through by seeking out and connecting with internalized supports such as case management and discharge planning, as well as peer and family peer support.

The HCJC has been able to identify success and can see the impact that OT is having on the participating group members. An example of this includes, early on in the program an inmate returned to the HCJC following his unplanned release from incarceration to pick-up his signed certificates. Due to the fact that this individual had no driving privileges, he had to arrange for a ride and come from several counties away to retrieve his OT certificates. This shows there is a true value in OT services provided at HCJC. Other inmates are also requesting to participate in an OT transitional care program following their release from incarceration to help keep them motivated to stay on track and keep them from becoming re-incarcerated. The collaboration between The University of Findlay Occupational Therapy Department and the HCJC is making a positive change in those incarcerated in Hancock County.

Through the eyes of a past group member:

OT has given me a new found confidence. Since I started OT in 2013 I have held two management positions, enrolled in college, and have been placed on one of the most stable housing programs in town. I remember my anticipating thoughts two years ago before my very first class. I was incarcerated in HCJC, without a release date. I had gotten only brief description of the class from other inmates who had previously taken it. To me it sounded like a big resume building seminar. But, I sure was wrong.

Each week we studied over different modules. We practiced interviews for employment, we built a budget, and even learned organization skills for better time management. But, not only did they teach us in the professional realm, they taught us how to make essential house hold cleaning products, and made all of the groups enjoyable. They have also educated me on how to find leisure family activities, which being a single father of three really helped. They showed me having a felony does not have to be a barrier. Now thanks to OT I am well on my way to becoming a great father, intellectual student, and professional.

Through the eyes of a past OT intern:

As a student, you become eager to put everything you’ve learned throughout school into practice. You become nervous, excited and apprehensive about various things. For me, it was related to both my newly acquired skillset as a student occupational therapist, and the setting that I would find myself in for my first clinical rotation.

Prior stereotypes and influences throughout our own lives often occlude our view of individuals that are serving time in a justice system setting. As much as I believed that I prepared myself for a rotation in this type of setting, I was hesitant of what I could do personally to effect a change.

Throughout my rotation at HCJC, the “haze” lifted and I was able to self-reflect on my own biases and judgments. I was able to let go of judgment and stereotypes, and became aware of the struggles that many inmates face. Numerous barriers exist for these individuals on personal, social/societal, physical and mental levels. Basic life skills often eluded these individuals, and with just a little encouragement and direction, they began to see that they could effect a change within themselves. The individuals that I provided services to were eager to “become something more”. They themselves were ready to change and became aware that their lives did matter. It was a great joy to witness. I left the rotation with a better understanding of different lifestyles, and the knowledge that no matter what an individual has done or struggles with, that there is an inherent good in all. Oftentimes, they just need a little encouragement along the way to help them develop the skills and self-worth to continue to better themselves. It was rewarding to be able to use my skills as an OT to help individuals develop the self-worth and competence as well as practical skills to better themselves in numerous aspects of daily life.

In conclusion, OT has provided an opportunity for the whole team to grow both professional and personal. This collaboration between The University of Findlay and The HCJC is providing opportunities for inmates to grow and develop skills that are impacting future successes, as well as providing the opportunity for OT students to grow as a professional and develop skills and experiences that will stick with them throughout their professional career.

Reference: About Occupational Therapy. (2015). Retrieved June 8, 2015, from http://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy.aspx

Miranda Tippie is the Clinical Coordinator for Community-Based Practice at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. She develops community programming in pediatric and adult behavioral health, substance abuse residential treatment, the county jail, and adult felony probation. Miranda provides direct service and supervises Level II fieldwork students as well as brings her experiences into the classroom.

Ryan C. Kidwell, is the Jail Administrator for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office/Justice Center in Findlay, Ohio. He has over twenty four years of experience in Corrections and began his career by serving as a Corrections Officer for the agency that he now oversees as the Jail Administrator.

Mica F. Closson Sr. participated in Occupational Therapy group in the Hancock County Justice Center. He has recently completed inpatient rehabilitation, he runs a creative expressions recovery group in the community, is currently enrolled in college classes to obtain a social work degree, and is looking forward to giving back to the community that has helped him through so much.

Amanda Munoz, a United States Army Veteran, graduated from the University of Findlay OT program in 2013 with her Master’s Degree. Amanda completed her fieldwork placement at Hancock County Justice Center. She is currently working as the Lead Occupational Therapist for Hill Country Healthcare in San Antonio, Texas, where she collaborates with other professionals to provide treatment and therapy for patients requiring assistance in returning to work including work hardening and chronic pain programs.

(Source: corrections.com)


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