Potosi reintegration program aims to get prisoners out of solitary confinement

Oct 29, 2013

A prison cell
Credit mikecogh / Flickr

A team of prison administrators, medical staff, officers and volunteers at Potosi Correctional Facility are working together to decrease the number of prisoners in solitary confinement at the eastern Missouri facility.

They work together to create customized programs for the selected group of offenders, with the goal of decreasing their individual behavior violations and eventually moving them back into the general prison population. The program is unlike any other within the Missouri Department of Corrections. 

There are currently 24 inmates working with the reintegration unit. The inmates, described by officials as egregious and self-destructive, were selected from facilities across the state to move to Potosi, where they now receive the customized help. Education, art therapy, medication adjustments and additional mental counseling are some of the tools used as incentives for encouraging good behavior, which in turn decreases the violations that keep them segregated. Many of these programs are typically unavailable to inmates in solitary confinement.

George Lombardi is the Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections. He said some participants have done so well, they have already successfully rejoined the general prison population. He credits the multidisciplinary approach and the respect amongst staff as being key factors for the unit’s success.

“It has to do with the fact that each member of the team of people that are working with us have equal say in whether or not a person should progress or regress accordingly,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi explained the essence of the program is in recognizing the other factors that drive these individuals with long histories of behavioral problems to engage in assaultive and self-destructive behavior. He said the decline in mental health services across the country has fueled the problems within correctional facilities. Many of the offenders in solitary confinement suffer from mental health ailments.

Researchers have studied the effects of long-term segregation and have found that isolation can fuel these ailments and lead to further behavioral and mental obstacles for the incarcerated. Increased levels of suicide and recidivism are high amongst inmates in solitary confinement.

After using the individualized programs, assaults and other behavioral violations are down. Lombardi explained that the 24 offenders in the program had a total of 475 conduct violations over a three-year period. That number has dropped to less than 30 since the unit began working with them.

Gov. Jay Nixon recently awarded the Potosi Correctional Facility Reintegration Unit with an award for innovation. The annual award is part of the Governor’s Award for Quality and Productivity. The innovation award recognizes teams of Missouri state employees who creatively improve existing programs.

Wanda Seeney is the Community Outreach and Marketing Director for the Missouri Office of Administration. Seeney believes the award confirms the success of the program and gives the program the credibility it needs.

“The information and data is shared online, within state government and with other states so they can review and access and see what we’re doing and perhaps mirror the process and program," Seeney said.

Lombardi believes the work at Potosi is possible at more facilities across the country. He is looking forward to sharing the success at Potosi Correctional with his colleagues across the country.