IMSI staff help inmates leave gangs
A process developed by staff at Idaho Maximum Security Institution is proving to be effective at helping Idaho’s most dangerous inmates give up gang life and live peacefully with other inmates, some of them their former rivals who they were sworn to attack on sight.
The process is called Step Down. Over the course of 24 weeks Step Down prepares inmates for the often difficult transition from IMSI’s highest level of custody, administrative segregation (ad seg), back to the general prison population. Since July 1, 2010, 34 ad seg inmates have gone through Step Down and not one has returned.
“That’s amazing especially because these are the hardest inmates in the system,” says the Idaho Department of Correction’s Chief of Operations Kevin Kempf. “Step Down is a success because it involves high caliber correctional professionals using research-based tactics to target offenders who have been identified as good candidates for change.”
Because of the risk they pose to other inmates and staff, ad seg inmates have virtually no control over any aspect of their lives. They spend the vast majority of their time alone in their cells. During the few hours a week when they are brought out for a shower or court-mandated recreation time, their hands and sometimes even their feet are restrained.
It’s relatively easy for prison administrators to determine which offenders should be administratively segregated from the rest of the inmate population. The hard part is determining when an inmate is ready to be re-integrated.
The process used to be largely left to subjectivity and a little bit of luck. “Without any preparation, we just opened the cell door and now you’re around a couple of thousand other inmates, you’re living with a guy in a cell, and good luck,” says IMSI Warden Randy Blades. “Well, that doesn’t serve anybody very well.”
So about three years ago, IMSI staff set out to change the subjectivity to objectivity and eliminate the guesswork by applying correctional best practices to the process. Now in order to transition out of ad seg, an offender must fill out an application and win the approval of their case management team, the IMSI staff who oversee Step Down, and ultimately IMSI’s warden.
When an offender’s application is approved, he is moved to IMSI’s J-block where he shares a cell with another Step Down inmate on the tier above Death Row. Of