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Proposal for a Correctional Volunteer Community

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@ -- permission for use-with-acknowledgment Ivan Scheier
Concept Paper
June, 1989

Shelleyville Proposal for A Correctional Volunteer Community

SHELLEYVILLE is a volunteer community we will create for genuine rehabilitation of offenders at near-zero cost to taxpayers. Partial precedent has been moving in this direction for years. Shelleyville is the destination, the ultimate in citizen participation for corrections-a volunteer village.

The verdict on corrections seems to be that some things work some of the time but most things don't work most of the time. It's fashionable to blame-correctional personnel for this, forgetting that many staff and volunteers are devoted and highly skilled. It's the system that's flawed because some of the assumptions it makes are suspect and in need of reexamination.

First of all, corrections today is unrealistically expensive even if and when it does work. Taxpayers are close to revolt as we spend billions to build more prisons and $20,000 or more per year to maintain each inmate in them. SHELLEYVILLE will cost far less to construct while offender residents will cost nothing to maintain. Not only that, they will be paying taxes and perhaps a special fee in addition, for the privilege of being in this "program."

However costly it may be, corrections today often doesn't correct; it often seems to encourage more crime. The deeper offenders get in the system, the more likely they are to get in more trouble, whenever they have the next chance to do so.

One reason for this may be some assumptions we make about separating the offender from, the rest of society. Concern for public safety demands that hard-core, habitual types be separated from society and kept that way a long time, or forever. Most offenders, however, are going to have to go back into the community sometime. The only question is whether we will send them back more likely to do harm again, or less. Therefore, for such returnees, we need to get better at selective separation from bad influences while reinforcing or developing potentially positive influences.

Today we're all too likely to throw out the baby with the bath water, the good influences with the bad. Incarceration typically disconnects offenders from family, job opportunities and whatever other positive behavior factors are possible in their past lives. On release we must then try desperately to re-connect him/her with family, job, etc. when it's too late to do so, or too much more difficult. SHELLEYVILLE will never disconnect the offender from positive influences, in the first place.

As for "re-integrating" the offender into a community which likes community-based corrections in principle (but Not in My Backyard!), SHELLEYVILLE never disintegrates the offender to begin with. Instead, it constructs a correctional volunteer community designed to give offenders a better chance for reform—without "coddling" anyone.

As for negative influences, corrections today seems to do more to encourage them than to remove them. The main villain of the piece is the massive crime-causing or supporting milieu from which offenders come and to which they return. Our treatment efforts, however skilled, are merely interludes, brief counter-cultural incidents in the dominant culture of crime.

In probation, parole, diversion and other field situations, treatment programs may "work" when we have the offender in our clutches; but these influences are but occasional and relatively weak interruptions in the consistently crime—conditioning environment which is his lot. So, failing in the field, we incarcerate the offender cage him up with others like him, thereby reinforcing socially negative influences in what have been called "graduate schools of crime." Hence, high treatment failure rates; hence high repeat-offense rates; hence high levels of public frustration; hence low staff morale.

SHELLEYVILLE will load the dice the other way. It will do this by placing the offender in a social environment deliberately designed to make normal expectations of law-abiding behavior predominant. Our purpose here is first to envision the future SHELLEYVILLE, then describe some partial precedents pointing today in the direction of that future. Finally, we will propose a planning study to deal with some of the ground-clearing issues that arise in creating this correctional volunteer community.

Welcome to Shelleyville

Visualize it! First of all, this is very definitely a planned community. Population is somewhere between 500 and 5,000 composed of "normal" people and selected offenders in a ratio somewhere between 5-to-1 and 20-to-1.

Offenders would be carefully screened for their ability to benefit from this living situation without posing undue threat to others. Violence-prone and assault types are definitely out. Also probably rejected would be very short-termers; SHELLEYVILLE couldn't do its job with an overly transient population. On the other hand, if the environment works as hoped, many offenders would voluntarily opt to remain as residents after their mandated time in the community is completed. Generally, we are probably looking for a type of "status offender" who would otherwise be in minimum security, a pre-parole center, or actually on parole or-intensive probation. One colleague has suggested we particularly look at juvenile offenders, along with the families, where feasible and desirable.

The offender will agree to comply with certain special conditions such as:

1. Not to leave a prescribed geographical area, say, a few miles beyond village limits, without an official pass or permission.

2. To report in regularly. This can be done unobtrusively, e.g. at a gas station a convenience store or less high-traffic locations.

3. Not to associate overmuch with other offenders, but, rather, to participate actively in the larger life of the community, which will have a wide range of healthy choices for this.

4. Not to violate any other special conditions placed on her/him as a result of offender status. Among these may be:

a. No new offenses of course, beyond the trivial. An offender who is afraid of stepping on a crack or getting a parking ticket may feel uncomfortable with the majority of non-offenders who have no such fears.

b. Faithfully to perform community service assigned as a condition of his or her sentence. SHELLEYVILLE will be richly endowed with free community services.

c. Stay on schedule with restitution, child support, debt reduction or other court assigned payments. The SHELLEYVILLE resident is far more likely to be able to do this with a job paying, say, six dollars an hour, than if he were in prison pulling down $.25 an hour or so. And restitution payments can be set at a realistically high level--just the opposite of "coddling" an offender.

5. To work hard and keep his or her job.

What of the larger population of non-offenders? Every one of these will help create a "positive peer culture," simply by being themselves. Unlike alot of correctional volunteers, they will not need to be specially trained for a special rehabilitation role as treatment agents of one sort or another. They will just "do their thing" 24 hours a day as normally decent people.

There will be equally careful selection on this side, too. We will seek a normal range of solid citizens with perhaps a somewhat higher than ordinary seasoning of people with experience, sophistication and commitment regarding the rehabilitation of offenders. Include here, volunteers in criminal justice who, past and present, number several millions in the U.S. alone; retired probation, parole or correctional officers; criminology graduate students and their families, and genuinely rehabilitated ex-offenders. Many religiously oriented people will be prompted to apply. There may also be ambitious business entrepreneurs or others attracted by incentives such as lower rental or interest rates, possibly some tax breaks.

The offender's family should be with him, too, wherever this is at all feasible. Perhaps some elements of extended family should be considered.

One group could easily come to predominate in SHELLEYVILLE, e.g. one religious denomination or one ethnic or racial group. That might work, too, but it is not the normal range kind of population we are talking about for SHELLEYVILLE.

The town will look and be as normal as possible. There will be the usual kinds of businesses, banks and professional offices with some special effort to recruit an industry or two which is sensitive to the special employment needs and potential of offender workers. There may be tourist attractions, too, bringing money into town, though the attraction should not be the thrill of a walk-in offender zoo.

There will be churches, supermarkets, schools, service clubs, restaurants, theaters, hobby and social groups, bowling alleys and other recreational opportunities. Quite possibly these might not include bars or bottle shops, or other typical offender temptations. These issues will have to be carefully thought through. Finally, SHELLEYVILLE will have its own police force, perhaps with some special training related to the special nature of the community.

Offenders can be proportionately represented in all these groups, where not prohibited from doing so by their offender status or the specific nature of their offense. A record of bad check writing probably disqualifies you for work at the bank (or does it?). And probably an offender cannot serve as a judge, though Boston is said to have had a Mayor who ran the city from his jail cell. Some of the possibilities are intriguing; for-example, offenders as police, security guards, Sunday School Teachers, etc.

Let life go on, then, with a minimum of distinction between offender and non-offender residents. Let there be the usual run of squabbles and scandals, conflict over zoning regulations, PTA power struggles, a great Fourth of July picnic, the local high school basketball team losing a heartbreaker, local elections ranging from boring to bitter, tragic automobile accidents, family Christmases, a new Pastor at the Baptist Church, and, let's face it, romance. Cupid's arrows are no respecter of legal status, and some people who never suspected it in themselves, will be asking the age-old bigot's question: "Yes, but do I want my daughter to marry one?"

Somewhere in all this, the offender will have a chance to re-adapt to the real world with reasonably healthy real-world supports-all this because he is in the real world. For with all its imperfections, SELLEYVILLE will project powerful expectations of reasonably normal behavior by all its citizens. The norm will be the normal.

Funding will be not nearly as formidable as building a new prison or jail. Offenders will be fully self-supporting, remember, rather than costing government $20,000 or more a year. Besides that, they will be paying taxes to the government. And though non-offender residents may receive some financial incentives, they will mainly be unpaid rehabilitation agents, as part of their daily life.

But the investment in physical plant sounds huge-an entire village, no less! Cut that down drastically, though (as a government expense) as non-offender residents contribute substantially to financing via purchase or rental of property, payment of property taxes, etc. As for remaining risks, private developers have taken graver ones before; indeed, it is a rare advantage for them to have someone actually sentenced to live in their tract. Note, too, that we are not necessarily talking about building a village from the ground up. We might instead be able to purchase a ghost town and renovate it, or a town in pretty good physical shape, which has for some reason fallen on hard times economically-newspaper accounts quite regularly report people purchasing entire towns of this type.

Where will SELLEYVILLE be? Siberia has been tried before and is not suggested here. Nor should we expect offers from Santa Fe. But there are many decent livable locales somewhere between Siberia and Santa Barbara, many of them sufficiently out-of-the-way to reassure any Not-In-My-Backyarder. Someone will surely suggest an island and that might be okay. Only go a little easy on the sharks.

Predecessors--Pointing Towards SHELLEYVILLE

The essential idea is a basic tenet of community-based corrections: insofar as possible, expose the offender to a normal community environment, which also means removing the abnormal. This is a fine theory, but we have honored it more in the breech than in the observance. Still, there is slow movement, as follows:

1. Sometimes we try to intervene to change the actors who surround the offender. Thus, probation or parole rules may forbid association with former friends, family, acquaintances or coworkers deemed to be "bad influences." A somewhat More drastic intervention, especially for younger offenders, might be outright removal from the natural home environment and placement with a foster family.

2. "Positive peer culture" attempts to turn the culture of crime around, using mainly the same actors, e.g. offenders.

3. A major belief underlying criminal "rehab" volunteerism is that volunteers can occupy substantial amounts of an offender’s social space, either on a one-to-one or group basis. One even hears occasionally of efforts to surround one offender with several volunteers, though this is still not an entirely new social environment either time-wise or people-wise.

4. Programs which temporarily release the incarcerated offender to visit his or her family, etc. similarly attempt to emphasize the positive in his social environment. In some instances an offender may be allowed to spend the entire workweek with his family, on his job, returning to jail only over the weekend.

5. Conjugal visits are an attempt to keep a family together even when the offender must remain locked up. An extension of the bring-the-family-in concept exists in Mexico, we're told, where the offender's family stays with him in a kind of correctional settlement ("Tres Maria" is the name we have on this). We've also heard of programs in U.S. prisons which permit a women offender's baby to visit or even stay with her while she is incarcerated.

6. Dismas House mixes former prisoners and college students in a residential halfway house setting to form a supportive mini-community, or, if you like, recreate a kind of family for parolees who have no family.

Partial precedents listed thus far tend to deal with the offender's more immediate social environment of family, friends, job situation, etc. Listed now are partial precedents which try to reach out further to the wider community in which offenders must ultimately function--we might call this the macro environment.

7. Community-based correctional facilities, pre--release centers, halfway houses try in various ways to reach out to the pre-existing neighborhood or community around them. But since this surrounding community pre-existed the facility for reasons which had nothing to do with offender rehabilitation, and may actually be antithetical to it, this outreach typically is incomplete, flawed. The Amikam Hostel in Israel appears to be an exception to this, based on a paper recently presented by Avraham Hoffman, Director of Israel's Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority. In the following quote, the writer's interpolations are -in parentheses.

"The Amikam Hostel is located in a village community (moshav), whose main occupation is agriculture, and who is willing (after careful prospect search by corrections authorities and intensive negotiations thereafter)to absorb ex-prisoners in its midst. Every prisoner is promised a job on the moshav and an adoptive family (different people involved in each), and every prisoner is integrated into all the social and cultural activities of the moshav. The demands upon the former prisoner include steady work, permission for leave, abstention from contact with delinquents, refraining from all delinquent behavior, including the use of drugs and alcohol. The absorption of prisoners is done in stages...."

8.In at least two instances we know of, mere propinquity of a community to a treatment facility has evolved over long periods towards a community wide support and reality testing milieu for the patients. Since the 14th century, a government institution for the mentally ill has existed in Gheel, Belgium. Today, we are told, many of most of the patients are lodged in the homes of local inhabitants and the entire town is something of a supplementary treatment agent. A similar mainstreaming role seems to have accumulated among residents of Watertown, Massachusetts, where the Perkins School for the Blind has been located since 1829.

Let pass, too, that today’s maximum security inmate doing life with virtually no outside-world contact, has been effectively exiled--never mind the geographical details. By contrast, we are not dumping masses of prisoners together, in a hostile environment, just to get them out of sight. SHELLEYVILLE will be a very carefully planned correctional volunteer community in which behavior-normalizing influences will predominate.


Precedent thus far suggests real promise for SHELLEYVILLE but cannot assure its success, exactly as currently conceived. On the one hand, corrections today is not so successful that it can dismiss out of hand, any fresh approach which might work better than the tired old ones. On the other hand, precipitous enthusiasm is equally uncalled for. We need more information and more thinking before we actually embark on the creation of our volunteer village.

We therefore seek funding for a 6-12 month planning grant which will study and evaluate existing precedents more intensively, and seek other ones. We will also develop and consult with a panel of experts which will include correctional personnel, criminology professors, offenders and ex-offenders, community planners, real estate people, correctional volunteers, and elected political leaders. Above all, we should consult with bold developers of entire communities such as Reston and Columbia, Maryland. Indeed, these probably should be added to our list of precedents for SHELLEYVILLE.

Some of the concern areas have already been indicated: selection of offenders most appropriate for SHELLEYVILLE; the same for selection of resident volunteers; location, costs, design features, etc. Another issue concerns the key role given social milieu in genuinely "correcting" the criminal behavior of SHELLEYVILLE's resident--offenders. Some seem to think it's not all that important ever, or at least not so late in life when a "bad environment" has already done its work. Among those who agree that the human surroundings of the offender are crucial, the best ratio of volunteer to offender (residents remains an issue. At least one reviewer believes that equal numbers of each- as in Dismas House--will be sufficient. We believe the ratio needs to be much higher.

The planning study will produce a general blueprint for SHELLEYVILLE, selectively circulated to more creative correctional authorities and political leaders in Canada and the United States. We seek those whose sometime desperation about corrections never prevails against a stubborn hope that "rehabilitation of offenders hasn't failed; it's just never been seriously tried."

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SHELLEYVILLE is named in honor of Doctor Ernest L. V. Shelley. Dr. Shelley was for many years Chief of Treatment in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He was also, in our opinion, the most eloquent spokesman of the twentieth century for the humane and effective involvement of volunteers in the criminal justice system.

Sometimes in agreement, sometimes not, but always careful and concerned, the following people have contributed valuable comments to enrich this concept paper: Mary Louise Cox, Dale Forbes, G. Norman Henderson, Terry Horgan, Dodie Ledbetter, and Joseph Ossmann. These represent a wide range of knowledgeable perspective.

Ivan Scheier, the preparer of this concept paper, has had many years experience as a volunteer, staff person, researcher, trainer, author and consultant in corrections and correctional volunteerism. Awards include the national Meritorious Service Award of t National Council of Juvenile Court Judges; a Distinguished Service Award from the Ministry of Corrections of the Province of Ontario; and the Community Service Award of the International Association of Justice Volunteers.

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Ivan Scheier
607 Marr
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87901
Tel (505) 894-1340

For comments and editing suggestions please contact Mary Lou McNatt