County Corrections to Share $2.5 Million Grant

April 1, 2005

by Joel Gallob of The Newport News-Times

Lincoln County Community Corrections will share a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to fund the county’s Healthy Family Project, a program offering services to criminal offenders and their families.

The Healthy Family Project will focus on the impact offenders often have on their children, and it is aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty, criminality, poor parenting and health risks posed by unhealthy child-rearing practices. As part of the project, the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) at Oregon State University in Eugene will conduct a study of participation by, and effects upon, parolees and probationers, their domestic partners, and children up to 15 years old.

While the terms of supervision or court-imposed conditions may require parent training, the decision to participate in the research part of the project will be voluntary.

The project design calls for at least 180 participants.

Four prototype parenting sessions have already been held over the past three years in anticipation of receiving the grant award.

The grant application was a combined effort of the Lincoln County Community Corrections Department, the OSLC, the Oregon Department of Human Services, and the Lincoln County Children’s Advocacy Center, County Corrections Director Susanne Gonzales will be the primary contractor under the grant, and Dr. Lew Banks, director of the OSLC, the chief investigator.

The Healthy Families Project provides 12 weeks of parenting instruction to offenders, childcare during the classes and supporting family home visits. The classes combine “cognitive restructuring,” Banks said, with positive parenting instruction in a curriculum designed by OSLC. The home visitations seek to ensure that child safety is monitored, and referrals are made to available social services. The class instruction is reinforced in at-home sessions.

The research part of the program will monitor the effects the program has on both the parents and children involved. The focus is on the families of rural area criminal offenders, and the project aims at improving the short-term and long-term health and safety of some of the country’s most vulnerable children.

Ordinarily, supervision programs for offenders focus almost exclusively on the offender himself or herself. But a long-term approach to improving child and public safety “must involve programs that address multi-generational issues and result in positive changes in offender families,” Gonzales said. “Failure to do so places our own future public safety at risk.”

Wednesday morning, Gonzales said the project has been “a long-time coming.” She noted the participation of Carl Reddick of the corrections department parole and probation office, her predecessor, Gary Weeber, the county’s Health and Human Services Department and the Children’s Advocacy Center in Newport in the four-year effort at winning the award. The county commissioners also helped out, providing a grant from its economic and community development program for one of the early classes, she noted.

County Commissioner Don Lindly agreed that the overall project was “a team effort.”

“This will pay off with eight jobs in the county,” Gonzales said, and the OSLC will add four more jobs to this county’s economy via the research part of the grant.

Commissioner Terry Thompson said he hopes the project will help “stop the revolving door in our criminal justice system” by which offenders repeat their crimes, children get caught up in criminal lifestyles, and as they grow older, often follow in their parents’ footsteps until they, too, are facing a judge. Thompson said the OSLC’s history of social science research should help make a big difference in how criminal justice work is done, not just locally but perhaps nationwide.

Dr. Banks paid tribute to Lincoln County’s Reddick, who, he said, “developed and used the technique of cognitive restructuring successfully with Lincoln County offenders for some years.” The parent training class side to the program, he added, “is well known countrywide.” The two have never before been combined, and that, Banks said “is one reason why this has been funded. It’s a unique opportunity.”

Thompson said he has had graduates from the existing classes provided by community corrections “come up to me on the street and say this really works.”

Copyright 2005, Newport Times. Reprinted with permission.