Blog: News & Views from the Field

Knowledge can be empowering. Whether you are seeking recovery for yourself or someone else, we hope you find our blog topics helpful. Check back often or subscribe today.

Harry K. Wexler, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert in correctional substance abuse services and outcomes. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles, chapters, studies and books – and has been a senior advisor to several federal agencies, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections and National Institute on Drug Abuse. He co-led a workgroup at the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment that developed Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) #44 -- Substance Abuse Treatment for Adults in the Criminal Justice System. As principal investigator on several national research projects, his works have influenced public policy and funding at a national level, beginning with Project REFORM, and the long-term study of exemplary, non-profit operated therapeutic community (TC) programs in state prisons – originally contributing to the base of evidence resulting in the establishment of the federal Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program for State prisoners.

Changing Prisons in Virginia

Spectrum has joined with the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) in an important experiment with the potential of impacting prison systems throughout the country by reframing the mission and function of prisons. A powerful combination of circumstance has aligned in Virginia where Spectrum Health Systems operates a 1,080 bed Therapeutic Community treatment program at Indian Creek Correctional Center (ICCC) -- a mission specific institution and one of the few and largest treatment dedicated prisons in the country. The VADOC is committed to reform and has shown strong interest in re-envisioning ICCC into a robust “Launchpad” that maximizes inmates’ opportunities for success. The VADOC has evolved a strong network of community agencies that are dedicated to support successful inmate reentry providing a well-suited environment for the new prison “prototype.”

Continue reading
3217 Hits

Prisons as a Launch Pad

At this point in history when there is a growing consensus for prison reform, we have an opportunity for making systemic change that can impact great numbers of inmates by re-envisioning prisons as “launch pads” for success. We believe this is feasible through a well-designed integration of the self-help therapeutic community (TC) model and a strong network of community and prison training resources within a correctional system that is primed for prison reform and reentry success.
Continue reading
2447 Hits

Prison Rehabilitation Success: The Untold Story

As the presidential campaigns are starting and the candidates are formulating their battle strategies, criminal justice reform is the one place with surprising agreement. We see leaders and supporters of both parties joining forces to advance criminal justice reform and support treatment efforts throughout the system.

A number of historical developments have set the stage for the shift from being primarily “tough on crime” to effective treatment, but the critical role of substance abuse treatment in the history of rehabilitation in American Corrections is often overlooked. It is important to challenge this omission of the important role played by substance abuse treatment; primarily therapeutic communities (TCs) that have become the vanguard of effective rehabilitation in most U.S. prison systems. By focusing on treatment of substance abusers, a classification that includes most offenders and is highly correlated with recidivism, it became possible to introduce effective rehabilitation programming into prisons and to begin challenging the old adage that “nothing works in correctional rehabilitation”.

Continue reading
7379 Hits

The Digital Divide and Evolution of the Therapeutic Community

This blog is part of a series which examines the role of entrepreneurship in substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. A key component of future success is engaging the “Digital Divide” that represents a significant vocational barrier for recovering individuals.

The Digital Divide represents the separation between individuals who know how to use a computer and appreciate the value of computer skills, and those who do not. It highlights who has access to information technology in various geographical regions, communities, and societies. Beyond looking at the connected and unconnected, the Digital Divide exemplifies major economic and social inequalities in the world today. Without access and the ability to use a computer, an individual is greatly restricted in their ability to be competitive in today’s world. This is especially true for criminal justice clients and individuals in recovery whose successful employment prospects are limited.

Over the years, the therapeutic community (TC) has evolved and gained acceptance as an effective substance abuse treatment model in prisons and community-based settings. As the TC continues to mature, some of its limitations for future success have become increasingly apparent. For one, many recovering individuals lack knowledge and ewhile knowledgeable about recovery and interpersonal relations skills, are much are less knowledgeable about technology. With the deepening Digital Divide separating the more educated and moneyed class from blue collar and less educated groups (that many recovery individuals come from) the vocational challenges intensify as many low tech technical jobs disappear.

Continue reading
5114 Hits

Recovery Through Entrepreneurship

Reentry and reintegration of criminal justice clients are the primary goals of all criminal justice rehabilitative efforts.  There are few who would disagree that jobs are a major key to successful recovery.  There is a need for a fresh approach to employment through entrepreneurial trainings and opportunities for prison inmates and participants in community substance abuse treatment programs.  The focus of this blog is on increasing employment opportunities for substance abusers as a means of aiding recovery, reducing recidivism and facilitating a prosocial lifestyle. The need to improve employment opportunities is evident from the substance abuse and criminal justice literature. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment in reducing drug use and recidivism, while employment – an important aspect of a prosocial lifestyle -- has lagged behind. Thus, new models for providing vocational training must be developed. In light of this need, the proposed alliance support the utilization of social entrepreneurship as a means of making vocational training a more significant treatment tool, one that is thoroughly integrated into the recovery process.

Continue reading
8563 Hits

Spectrum's Research Focus

As I reported in my last blog, there has been growing interest at Spectrum in developing a research capability to explore and enhance the organization’s understanding of treatment processes and further improve program effectiveness.  As part of Spectrum’s increased focus on research, I have conducted a survey with a small group of my senior colleagues  to help inform Spectrum’s current research initiative and suggest strategies to maximize benefits to the programs and contributions to the treatment field.  The survey results are the basis of my current blog series.

This blog focuses on the survey question, “What are the major unanswered questions in treatment research?”  As Spectrum considers how best to engage and expand its research work, it is important to consider what experienced researchers view as the areas needing attention and to identify where the field is heading.   

Continue reading
5388 Hits

Spectrum's New Research Initiative

Spectrum is a national leader in delivery of evidence-based substance abuse treatment services. Recently, there has been growing interest in developing a research capability to explore and increase understanding of treatment processes and further improve program effectiveness. Spectrum’s interest in research is demonstrated by the recent formation of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) that is needed to approve federally funded research projects conducted at Spectrum and the creation of a research advisory group.

As Spectrum more actively engages in research, it is important to deepen our understanding of the research “business.” As Spectrum’s Senior Research Advisor, I have conducted a survey with a small group of my senior colleagues 1 who are recognized leaders in treatment research and the application of research findings. The purpose of my informal survey was to help inform the current Spectrum research initiative and provide ideas on some strategies to maximize benefits to the programs and contribution to the treatment field.

Continue reading
6308 Hits

Integrated TC Treatment for Offenders with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Psychiatric Histories

I recently had the opportunity to present to Spectrum staff and criminal justice administrators in Georgia on prison TC treatment of co-occurring disorders (COD). The Georgia DOC is forward thinking and very interested in effective prison treatment and a strong supporter of Spectrum’s COD treatment approach.  I have taken this blog opportunity to share the Georgia presentation.

Historically, mental health and substance abuse treatment have been seen as separate entities with different procedures, professional orientations and certifications.  In recent years, there has been a growing realization that COD disorders that include both a mental health and substance abuse diagnoses are more the norm then the exception and the preferred treatment approach based on both research findings and best practices is to treat both at the same time in an integrated approach. Spectrum is a leader in this area and is a firm supporter of integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, both in prison and the community.

Continue reading
6531 Hits

Spectrum’s Integrated Cognitive Behavioral/Therapeutic Community Model

Spectrum Health Systems is a leader in creating integrated treatment models that bring together the best of therapeutic community (TC) and cognitive behavioral approaches (CBT).  I have recently had the pleasure of working with Spectrum senior staff Peter Paolantonio, Christopher Petrozzi and Cindy Buraczynski to write a groundbreaking article “Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Treatment in Prison-Based Therapeutic Communities” that was recently published in the “Offender Programs Report” a well-respected publication that is widely read by treatment professionals.  Publishing is important because it provides an opportunity to share what we have learned and helps bring national attention to the excellent work at Spectrum.

A long-standing controversy in the substance treatment field has been whether the TC or CBT models are more effective.  For a long time I have felt that this question is somewhat misleading and out of date since most effective programs usually include elements of both approaches.  Over the last few years while serving as Senior Research Advisor at Spectrum, I have had the opportunity to deepen my understanding and appreciation of Spectrum’s integrated approach.  Based upon the work at Spectrum, the decision was made to share its approach with the larger community of substance abuse and criminal justice professionals. 

Continue reading
8653 Hits

Innovative Sources of Program Funding

During my career in criminal justice and substance abuse treatment, I continually return to the vexing issue of program funding.  Spectrum as most treatment organizations is a nonprofit organization that is dependent on State and local contracts, Medicaid reimbursement and philanthropic donations.  All these sources are variable and not entirely dependable.  While searching for alternative sources of funding I have come across a new and innovative financial vehicle - the “social impact bond” that is sometimes known as “pay for success”.  This approach provides opportunities for the public to invest in social programs that have promise of achieving measurable positive social outcomes. 

Continue reading
6495 Hits