Reduced restraints. Reduced seclusions. Worker comp claims and financial liability decreased by over 80%.
These are the positive results staff have achieved in a Montana youth correctional facility—where tensions can run high but staff continually develop skills to keep everyone safe.
Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility
First established in 1884 as a territorial women’s reformatory, the Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility is today Montana’s only long-term state-operated facility for adjudicated male youthful offenders. A 120-bed facility housing about 70 current residents, Pine Hills serves a dual population: young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 who are participating in a program designed to divert them from prison, and youths between the ages of 10 and 17 who enter the facility as a last stop in the juvenile criminal justice intervention process.
Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility
Jeff Holland is the facility’s quality assurance manager, working in staff development and training, security and emergency response practices, program development, and operations management.
According to Jeff, “Youth coming to us arrive at our facility having more than two out-of-home interventions in the community. They come to us with a variety of risks and needs from mental health issues to substance abuse to criminogenic needs specific to their history, and are finally adjudicated to the Montana Department of Corrections for placement in our facility for their crimes, which if they were committed by adult[s] would be considered felonies.” Pine Hills also includes a special housing unit and program for adjudicated sex offenders.
How a “perfect” audit spurred culture change at Pine Hills
Although CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention®
training has been in place at the facility since 2000, it ironically took a decisively positive audit from the American Correctional Association (ACA) back in 2010 to make the staff at Pine Hills re-examine the attitudes and methods that prevailed when staff attempted to resolve aggressive and violent resident behavior.
Although the ACA gave the facility a 100% rating before the auditors even left the facility that day, it also served to underscore issues the staff were still confronting. “We recognized that in spite of this rating, in our opinion, we were having too many instances requiring the use of physical control measures to resolve aggressive and violent resident behavior. As a result, we were incurring injuries to staff. And in addition to that, the relationship between our residents and our staff was under some tension,” explains Jeff.
The staff began re-examining the culture at Pine Hills and why physical means were so often necessary to control crisis behavior. Another troubling sanction in place in the facility was the use of seclusion to control resident misconduct. According to Jeff, “This was keeping residents who were acting out from full participation in the general population programming opportunities that are available in this situation.”
Photo: Bignai / iStock
The staff realized that controlling undesirable behavior with undesirable methods—in this case, restraint and seclusion—needed to change before an overall culture change could happen. “We wanted to address these concerns, [and] began searching for ways that we could possibly affect the outcomes and needs in other areas, so we did several things to bring about some changes to our culture,” says Jeff.
The culture change initiatives Jeff and his team put in place include:
- Committing to change from administration down through all levels of staff
- Working with staff to refocus on Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® de-escalation techniques
- Adapting performance-based standards to assess effectiveness of program changes
- Changing policies and procedures related to handling and confinement
- Incorporating vocational opportunities beyond classroom education
- Training staff in CPI’s Trauma-Informed Care course
- Training staff in CPI’s Enhancing Verbal Skills course
- Involving trainers in day-to-day facility interactions as well as classroom training
Pill Hill residents learning auto mechanics
Implementing change means looking beyond the classroom—and training frequently
One of the most important realizations for Jeff and the Pine Hills staff was that in order for culture change to effectively take root, the successful implementation of least restrictive de-escalation techniques
needed support beyond initial training.
Jeff explains: “What we really needed to do was build in support beyond the classroom, and we built that in several ways. We changed some policies and procedures in order to support this intervention and this cultural change, but what we also did with NVCI [Nonviolent Crisis Intervention®
] training in particular is I got a six-person crew together. Six people were certified in NVCI. Two people out of that group were certified in Enhancing Verbal Skills
. And what we did is we got those people out of the classroom after running all the staff through the initial training again, and had them involved in the day-to-day interaction with the staff.
“If there was an event that occurred in the housing unit, the odds were that one of these staff members was going to be on. They had the opportunity to meet with the staff immediately following the event to do an initial debriefing. They conducted after-action reviews. They were there to support staff and catch them doing something well and right. They gave them a pat on the back. If there was a concern, they were there within just a few hours to provide counseling and guidance in the proper use of techniques in the future.
“We regularly refreshed on various segments of the program, at least monthly. There were some spot checks in the units by this crew. So there was a lot of training done and support done by the NVCI and Enhanced Verbal Instructors in the units outside of the classroom to ensure that staff were appropriately utilizing and implementing these skills when they were needed.”
Recommitment and new training provide significantly positive outcomes
In the three-year period directly preceding the 2010 training initiative described above, Pine Hills had an annual average of 73 worker compensation claims and an average annual liability of $250,000.
After the one-year training initiative that included a focus on CPI’s Trauma-Informed Care
and Enhancing Verbal Skills
courses, Pine Hills was able to lower worker compensation claims by 82%, and lower financial liability from an annual average of $250,000 per year to $20,000. “And the really great news is that in years since then, we've been able to sustain these lower claim rates,” concludes Jeff.
Looking forward and generational impact
While Jeff is enthusiastic about the progress that’s been achieved at Pine Hills, he remains cautious, recognizing that people and the institutions they work in can sometimes revert to old habits. “The greatest challenge, in my opinion, is to fight against that tendency,” says Jeff. “We want to keep making improvements beyond the achievements of the past, and we want to always be seeking new and better ways to meet our facility mission to habilitate residents so that they can successfully return to communities and become a productive member of that community rather than becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system.”
The repercussions of that idea are profound. Jeff recalls a gentleman he met when he first started in corrections who told him, “Corrections is a family business.” Years later, Jeff says he has a better understanding of what the speaker meant: “So for me, the greatest sense of accomplishment comes from recognizing the generational impact that our actions as individuals and as a facility can have on the residents and the community, because when we positively affect the life of a resident, we're not just affecting his life. There's a generational impact where these positive outcomes carry forward into the future for him, his family, for the town or community in which he lives, for the state, and perhaps the society as a whole.”
is a quality assurance manager for the Montana Department of Corrections Youth Services Division at Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility. Jeff worked his way up through the ranks and has more than 20 years of experience within the juvenile corrections field. His experience in juvenile corrections includes counseling, case management, occupational health and safety, staff development and training, security practices, emergency response, program development, and operations management. In addition to other duties, Jeff is the facility Performance-Based Standards site coordinator and PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) compliance manager. He is a Department of Justice certified PREA auditor, an adjunct instructor with the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, and a 2012 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence.
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