County jail programs prepare offenders for life outside



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PETER LEGAULT at work on the Carroll County logo he painted with great detail on the once stark white walls of the Carroll County House of Corrections. Logo also painted the CCHOC logo on the same wall. (Mellisa Seamas photo) (click for larger version)
February 13, 2014
OSSIPEE — Though the attitude still prevails among many Americans and even some policymakers, the archaic notion of "just lock them up and throw away the key" is no longer the norm in County corrections.

Courts are charged with handing down a punishment that hopefully fits the crime, considers any victims' interests, and promotes public safety. Those who operate county jails are working to provide programs to offenders that will hopefully reduce the likelihood those offenders will return to jail.

And yes, while some, including local officials, may still refer to the county jail as a prison and its residents as prisoners or inmates, the modern term used to describe these individuals is "offenders."

Two of those offenders were gracious enough last week to let this reporter photograph their works in progress and the art they are leaving behind on their release later this month. It was not a surprise that the offenders whose arms are covered with tattoo art would be the ones creating works of art on the interior walls of Carroll County House of Corrections (CCHOC).

Peter Legault, proudly displayed the State of New Hampshire Seal and the CCHOC logo he painted with great detail on the once stark white walls. Dan Forth was at work painting a large tree in intricate detail that covers nearly an entire wall of a classroom. The room once had round metal tables and benches bolted to the concrete floor. Jail officials got permission last year to remove those tables, replacing them with real furniture and to cover the concrete with carpet. The room is now more welcoming and more conducive to effective attorney-offender meetings, classroom activities, and graduation ceremonies of the various CCHOC programs.

One of those programs is "Thinking for a Change." Since its inception last year, there have been three 25-session courses with 15 offenders graduating. It is touted as an "integrated, cognitive behavioral change program for offenders" that includes coaching offenders to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings and to recognize risk and use new thinking to avoid trouble. The program also focuses on social and problem solving skills. At completion of the program there is a graduation ceremony that offender families are invited to attend.

The tree that was being painted when this reporter visited has dozens of individual leaves and those will serve a purpose. Each future Thinking for a Change class will choose one positive word of what change means to them and it will be painted on a leaf. The thought behind the project is that the tree represents growth and growth equals change.

CCHOC also offers a tutored program designed to prepare offenders for the high school equivalency exam or GED and help them earn their certificate.

There are two recent additions to the list of programs available to offenders. "Read a Book to Your Child" allow offenders to record themselves reading a children's book. A CD is made of that recording and it can be sent home so the offender's child can hear their parent's voice. If anyone is interested in helping with this program, CCHOC will graciously accept donations of blank CDs.

In the drum and rhythm program, offenders have the opportunity to have an artistic outlet by giving the opportunity to learn to play drums.

CCHOC also offers access to a Twelve-Step program on a weekly basis to assist those in recovery from addiction, compulsion or other behavioral problems. Individual substance abuse counseling is also available. There is a four-week parenting class hosted by UNH Cooperative Extension and non-denomination based spiritual services and bible studies for those who wish to participate.

Offenders are also involved in doing maintenance work on the Carroll County complex, farm activities and processing firewood with Carroll County Farm, and completing community service projects.

To those who think that people convicted of crimes should just sit in jail and serve their time, CCHOC Assistant Superintendent Jason Henry said they should be asked to consider that most of the offenders are returning back to society and consider how they want those offenders back in the community. "The days of just warehousing offenders is in the past," said Henry. He also pointed to Article 18 of the N.H. Constitution Bill of Rights that pertains to penalties for offenses that closes with the sentence, "The true design of all punishments being to reform, not to exterminate mankind."

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