Reflections Reading Research

For this blog post, I would like to discuss and elucidate connections between my work with the CLC and my studies in criminology and sociology. To do so, I will review a small sample of readings relating to my current work and research.

Boudin, K. 1993. Participatory literacy education behind bars — AIDS opens the door. Harvard Educational Review 63 (2): 207-232.

The topic of correctional health has been an interest of mine for some time now, developed during my past work in public health dealing with underserved populations. By ‘correctional health,’ I mean the health status of inmates, as well as the services offered and quality of care received.

Despite incarcerated populations having mandated healthcare, their health status remains lower or poorer than that of the general population, characterized by higher levels of infectious disease (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, etc.) and mental illness, to name a few. Being incarcerated, in addition to being in poor health and lacking appropriate care, only serves to exacerbate the stigma of “criminal”; creating a dual-stigma of “offender” or “ex-con,” as well as “sick,” “HIV-positive,” “infected,” etc.

The issue of correctional health resurfaced after reading Emily Nye’s “The More I Tell My Story” with regard to the potential benefit and effectiveness of using writing groups for therapeutic reasons, especially among such dually-stigmatized or vulnerable groups. Although Nye’s research focused on non-incarcerated HIV-communities, I think her work and that of SpeakOut are indeed connected.

When thinking about literacy programs and their benefit, I wonder how best to serve those individuals that may be experiencing illness or disease while incarcerated? Perhaps some of the writers currently participating in the program are already experiencing this dual-stigma (although I am sure there are many other elements to their stigmatization, such as poverty, lack of education, socioeconomic status, etc.).

Proctor, S.L. , Hoffman, N.G., & Allison. S. 2012. The effectiveness of interactive jounraliing in reducing recidivism among substance-dependent jail inmates. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 56 (2): 317-332.

As an extension of what was discussed above–literacy programs for inmates with infectious disease or other health issues–I have also explored therapeutic programming specific to substance abusers or addicts. The study above recruited a sample of substance-dependent recidivists, or those who re-offend after being released, to participate in an intervention at Buncombe Country Detention Facility in North Carolina. The intervention consisted of a 24-page interactive journal utilizing the transtheoretical model of change (TMC). Proctor reports the focus of the journal:

To help individuals make the connection between their substance use and criminal activity and afforded the inmates a means of weighing the costs and benefits associated with different options they might pursue and how they might develop a plan for change following release (323).

Results from the study included a 15% reduction in recidivism among those participating in the intervention, compared to the control group. Surprisingly, this reduced recidivism rate was observed “with [correctional staff’s] minimal involvement in the journaling process and with less than optimal implementation of the process itself” (330). This finding suggests that with more involvement from correctional or treatment staff, recidivism could possibly be reduced even further among participants.

What I loved about this article was the specific way in which writing was tailored to the substance-dependent population. The use of TMC, “a theoretical model of behavior change that views change as a process involving several stages [6],” to address the issues plaguing this group of inmates was extremely insightful and, I thought, groundbreaking (323). Journalers were able to reflect on the choices they have made which led to their present situation, as well as brainstorm more prudent, socially acceptable strategies for living life on the outside.

Connecting Proctor and Boudin’s work, I am curious as to how literacy, journaling, or writing programs could be tailored to HIV/AIDS-inmate writing groups to become more beneficial to the writers themselves. Would the utilization of a transtheoretical model like TMC actually promote greater healing through writing for these communities or groups?

Furthermore, the utility of such theoretical models is not unique to groups like substance-users or those with an infectious disease. Thus, could the integration of more structured, theoretical activities emphasizing self-reflection and change be successfully implemented in SpeakOut programs? Would the writers even be receptive to such an intervention or program?

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