SUBSTANCE ABUSE EDUCATION PROGRAMS WITHIN THE NEW ZEALAND PRISON SYSTEM

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1 SUBSTANCE ABUSE EDUCATION PROGRAMS WITHIN THE NEW ZEALAND PRISON SYSTEM Elizabeth Jamieson IT IS DIFFICULT TO BE PRECISE ON HOW MANY OFFENDERS END UP IN THE prison system due to their consumption of mind changing and mood altering chemical substances. There can be no doubt, however, that for a large proportion of the inmates, alcohol and/or drugs have contributed directly or indirectly to the reason for their being in this environment. The fact that these substances are so prevalent in our society today is perhaps reason enough to address this problem, certainly from an educational perspective, while they are serving their time. For any program to be effective in this area there are a number of components involved and each is necessary, no one component being more significant than any other although each individual's requirements need to be assessed. Factual education alone may suffice for some, for many it is the combination of education, counselling, ongoing support once back in the community, for some possibly treatment and, wherever possible and applicable, family involvement. This involvement may need to be with the extended family as well as spouse and children. This is necessary in Maori and Polynesian families in particular because of their strong cultural values in this area. It is clear from information collected from the men and women interviewed, and the prisons, that there is a high incidence of substance abuse in the lifestyles of those who become sentenced inmates in New Zealand Prisons (Whitney 1992, p. 134). To simply return these people to the community without encouraging them to address their substance abuse behaviour is placing them at an incredibly high risk for re-offending, probably within a short space of time. This paper will deal with the education portion of a substance abuse program. The program has been running in Auckland Prison West

2 Programs (Paremoremo Medium Security) for three years and Auckland Prison East (Paremoremo Maximum Security) for ten weeks. The participants were/are all male, predominantly Maori with one class of ten weeks being conducted solely for Mongrel Mob gang members at the request of the Mob's leader. Participants Arrival in the Course Participants may arrive at the course at their own request; at the suggestion of their counsellor, social worker or probation officer; as directed by the Parole Board; encouraged by other inmates who have already attended. Once the course has commenced it is closed for the ten weeks although at times exceptions to this have occurred during the second session. Screening of Participants It is important that participants are screened for a working knowledge of both spoken and written English as there are not only written exercises that are part of the learning process but also a good deal of verbal group participation takes place. It is also important that individuals with underlying psychiatric disorders are not included as they may hinder group process and prevent the group forming into a cohesive working body. Mixing inmates from different units for ten weeks, for three consecutive hours per week is inadvisable. Difficulties will arise around issues of trust, verbal participation, confidentiality and again will prevent group cohesion. Exceptions can occur as with the aforementioned Mongrel Mob who came from three units. However, these instances are rare. Course Content, Process and Multi-cultural Involvement The conductor/facilitator of this program is Caucasian and female. She has had first hand experience of substance abuse herself and is also professionally trained in this field. Her collective experience spans years. It was evident from the interviews that inmates appreciated programs where counsellors were open, honest, frank, direct and to the point... they recognised the value, as did prisons, of working both with people who had first hand substance abuse experience and with people who had professional training (Whitney 1992, p. 140). Because the purpose of this course is to provide prevention and intervention in problems around substance abuse and to explore how the use and/or abuse of them affects not only the individual but additionally all 390

3 Substance Abuse Education Programs areas of their lives, it is possible to involve members of different cultures in the same group. In fact it encourages participants to gain different cultural perspectives other than their own in areas such as non-verbal communication and different value systems. The target of the experience is to increase the awareness of the responsibility each person holds for his own health and well-being (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). The methods employed amount to an experience of learning by doing. This technique recognises that people are able to make their own decisions but become overtrained in traditional scholastic systems to rely on the "expert", the teacher to determine how and what they learn to do. With a few exceptions, most adults are never challenged to make decisions regarding applying new information based on their own wisdom and personal direction. Responsibility for self and to others is emphasised throughout the course and participants are made aware that they are accountable for the information and activities upon which their own individual learning will depend. Long term, they are also responsible for their subsequent decisions and actions around alcohol and drugs and the consequences that arise as a result. Aims and Objectives of the Program The aims and objects of the program are: To allow participants to become aware of their personal responsibilities for the lifestyle choices they make. Participants come to understand how drug and alcohol related behaviour impacts on all areas of their lives personal, family, social. They become aware of the symptoms of alcohol and drug dependency and addiction. They practise specific life management skills (for example, stress management, decision making) that support lifestyle change. They are helped to discover the wide range of alternatives to drug and alcohol use which can potentially enhance well being and have a positive effect on those around them, in particular their spouse, children, family and friends. These objectives are achieved over thirty hours in a ten-week period of three consecutive hours per week. The general content of the course is as follows: Communication skills Stress management Problem solving/decision making 391

4 Programs Value clarification Peer pressure Alcohol/alcoholism/drug information Dependency/addiction Families and relationships Goal setting/maintaining change Support agencies Throughout each session the group is encouraged to explore how alcohol and drugs may affect them, consequently preventing them from reaching their full potential in the many different areas of their lives. The sessions are facilitated in this order over the ten-week period for several important reasons. It allows the facilitator to demonstrate honesty, confidentiality, respect and integrity to the group before entering into what may be a threatening area for some: how alcohol and drugs affect their lives. It is essential that the above process is adhered to as the success and value of the course is as much dependent on the process as the content. Understanding and practising communication skills at the start will lay the foundation stones for respect, listening, non-interrupting etc. which are the guidelines the average group will request from members. An inability to communicate adequately may lead to stress which in turn leads into the awareness that this will cause problems. The individual and the group can then discover how each of these areas may be impaired with alcohol and drug use, increasing stress and the potential for more problems developing as a result. Value clarification and peer pressure help individuals to understand how these will influence decisions. Never at any stage in the above process does the facilitator impose values. The environment is non-moralistic, non-judgmental and non-condemning. The participants are helped to discover that ultimately each individual is responsible for decisions made, actions taken and the consequences thereof. Having established trust, group cohesion and awareness from participants that they are discovering their own answers, alcohol and drug information as well as the addiction continuum are then discussed. The short term and long term consequences of use are explored by the group and the impact of these consequences on their lives, particularly long term on children and family. Finally, over the last two weeks goal setting and maintaining change are examined and two ex-inmates are brought into the group. These are chosen by the facilitator and are generally one Caucasian and one Maori. The prison superintendent is supplied with the full name of each man and the date of last release so that it is at his discretion that the men are permitted to attend the group. The prison requires a minimum five consecutive years out of gaol; the facilitator's requirement is that the individuals need to have been clean and sober for two consecutive years (including no use of marijuana). 392

5 Substance Abuse Education Programs Ongoing Support The introduction and time spent with these ex-inmates is extremely beneficial for all three parties: the group participants, the facilitator and the visitors. The three hours allows questions from group members to be answered by those who have proved by their change in lifestyle that they are able to attain and maintain a life free of the penal system. The ex-inmates had also come to realise the large part drugs and alcohol played in their involvement in the prison system. It serves as a healthy reminder to them. They can give their message to the group in a way that it is impossible for the facilitator to do. They have been where the group members are now. Very importantly they may act as part of a support system not only while some of the men finish their time but also be there for some of them when they leave. Often the individuals visiting the group will be known to some of the participants and may have shared similar lifestyles in the past. This of course is even more effective if appearance, demeanour and behaviour have changed since they were last in contact. In many instances these ex-inmates are members of 12 Step Groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) and may encourage the others to attend the meetings in prison in preparation for the continued support they can gain from members in these fellowships once they leave. Completion and Evaluation At the completion of the course each group member receives a certificate if they have attended all ten sessions. This acknowledges that they have completed the thirty hours. It serves no other purpose other than to certify this completion. However, at the same time for many class members it may raise their self-esteem and self-confidence as it is tangible proof of an achievement and for some it may be the first certificate they have ever acquired. In addition to the certificate, the facilitator writes individual evaluations, a copy of which is given to the group member, a copy kept by the facilitator and a copy to the Program Manager which is then attached to the individual's file. This is not a requirement of the Justice Department; however, in the facilitators opinion it serves several purposes: Because the evaluation consists of recommendations and commend-ations, it acts as feedback for the individual. It is based on observable attitudes and behaviour not on any verbal information which would break trust and confidentiality. It therefore also acts as a form of evaluation for the individual's file. It allows the facilitator to make recommendations for ongoing support and/or treatment at a later stage. The parole board will often find the evaluation helpful if they are assessing the person. 393

6 Programs Very importantly it will influence the participant's self-image and increase selfesteem. It may be the first time they have ever completed a course, gained a certificate, experienced any degree of self awareness and obtained any positive feedback. Group members also complete an evaluation form on the facilitator and the Course which enables the Program Director to evaluate both of these. Comments participants have made in these evaluation forms have been an incentive for the prison to continue these courses. It must be noted that in no way are the participants influenced in their evaluations as they complete the form with regard to the course before they are handed those compiled by the facilitator. Finally, for many of the group members, ongoing support must be encouraged and provided. This may be in the form of one-on-one counselling, an anger management course, the lifestyle course and/or attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous meetings. The need to involve family members of the participants in this course is a factor that should be examined in the future for the family system will ultimately be an area to which many will return. If communication skills, stress management and problemsolving techniques can be adopted by family members and a healthy understanding of the harmful consequences of alcohol and drugs be appreciated, then all will benefit. If this is integrated into their belief system then problems surrounding these substances such as crimes committed while under the influence may be reduced and in some cases eliminated. There is no simple solution in a world where more and more of these substances are becoming available. Economic factors, social factors and personal circumstances can influence an individual's decisions so that the whole approach to this problem has to be integrated. Education is but one part of the jigsaw puzzle albeit a very important part. Younger people are using drugs with the consequences of juvenile crime increasing and behavioural, personal and social consequences compounding as a result. Education in any environment is essential. A final word should perhaps go to two graduates from this course who commented, each on their own respective evaluation forms: I feel the prison system should never stop this course. A program every inmate must attend. Should be mandatory for every human being. References Whitney, L. 1992, Substance Abuse: A Survey of the Treatment Needs of Prison Inmates, Policy & Research Division, Department of Justice (NZ), Government Printing Office, New Zealand, p

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