Presence - June 2008

by Khalil Osiris


Part II of an interview with Khalil Osiris, co-founder of The Psychology of Incarceration and a columnist for RED! Webzine.

We began our conversation in March 2008 talking about the origin of the revolutionary program, The Psychology of Incarceration. We’re going to continue to get deeper now with respect to all that P.O.I. offers. Where did the concept of the “Criminogenic Needs Domains” originate?

It came from the Corrections Service of Canada.  For a number of years the Service based its array of correctional programs on what the professional literature reveals about offender “criminogenic needs.” They organized what was known about effective programming into seven major areas of programming (called the “domains”). So, this research was being conducted on the effective development of correctional programming to reduce recidivism. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections adopted the Criminogenic Needs Domains and implemented it as part of its prison re-entry initiative. ODRC implemented these Criminogenic Needs Domains throughout all of its institutions.

Why is it so crucial for inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals to fully understand these Criminogenic Needs Domains?

One of the main reasons is because a tremendous amount of research has been done, focusing on core areas of our daily lives that really require our attention and awareness in assessing an inmate’s own release readiness, and the likelihood of his or her  staying released. Too often, we the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated do not take the time to study our situations. We get caught up in reacting to them, without clarity as to how to change a situation. This research is an important insight for everyone serious about changing the dynamics of mass incarceration. It is absolutely serious research and very accurate and dynamic.

What would be one of those situations, for example?

There’s a tendency, when one is incarcerated, to think that simply being released from prison is the solution. We’re so overwhelmed with being incarcerated that our primary focus is just in getting out, with no real clarity about the implications and responsibilities that come with our release. So, we get blindsided by the stressors of life. And we find outselves back in the trap of reacting to conditions that we have not yet understood.  We have the power to change through an internal locus of control, which is evidenced by numerous examples of making good choices in our best personal and spiritual interests.

Has it been a struggle to get inmates to grasp the concept of criminogenic needs domains?

The biggest challenge has been the language itself, the actual phrase, “Criminogenic Needs Domains.”  Once it’s explained, however, it’s automatically understood at a very deep level what’s at stake, and why we must continue to go beyond personal vignettes about incarceration. Yes, going beyond reaches to their collective experiences in incarceration.

Employment and Education comprise the first domain. How are these issues handled in this domain?

Employment is seen as a leading factor to reducing recidivism and promoting public safety. Numerous studies have shown that people that are able to acquire meaningful employment stabilize quicker and are less likely to return as a result of that employment. It’s also important to understand that as one is working one must be in a continual process of furthering onself, if one intends to develop a career. In addition, education is the gateway to improving our quality of life at a deep personal level.

Are you seeing inmates realize this?

Absolutely. I have seen a yearning for education among inmates and a commitment to employment, as a way of breaking the cycle of crime, violence, and imprisonment in their personal lives. I think this is where my work is distinguished from a lot of other programs that exist for inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals.

My own strategy, upon release from prison, was to discover, first and foremost, my passion.  Then I wanted to find a place that was doing work connected to my passion. I say to the individual, “Go there, for instance, and offer to volunteer.” I was convinced that by doing work that was grounded in my passion, I would demonstrate my work ethic and my commitment to doing the right thing. And for the agency that I was volunteering with, I felt it would see me as a good candidate for that position. Most employment training and workforce development initiatives focus on resume writing, dressing for success, cover letter writing – all important – but what’s essential is that a person discover and live his or her passion, so that his or her employment become something more than just a job. When one discovers his or her passion, he is able to better find a job, keep a job, and stay out of jail.

Are “Marital and Family Relations” Criminogenic Needs Domain #2 for any special reason?

I don’t know if they’re there for a specific reason, but I know it is critical to understand the importance of family ties to one’s successful re-entry. I’m not talking just about biological family. I’m talking about the extended family, the family of community. The more there is a culture and climate of belonging in the truest sense of family – that is promoted and engaged as part of the re-entry process – the greater our success will be in helping people return to our families and communities.

What would you say to the inmate who might say, “But I have no real family. I’m not sure where to go.”

I would say that is why I emphasize family is more than biological relationships. I would encourage that person to find himself or herself a faith community that he or she is comfortable with, and one that is willing to work with them through their re-entry. It’s a resource that we have in every community, yet very often we overlook this. Do not make assumptions about a faith community, because those individuals are challenged as much as anyone else in terms of how to help men and women coming out of prison. The thing is not to go to a faith community to expect answers, but to focus on sharing your story and doing the right thing, making right choices.

How do you deal with “Associations and Social Interaction” in your teaching of domain #3?

A critical aspect of this domain is the recognition that others don’t make us do anything. We are responsible for our choices and our actions. And the idea of assessing ourselves in the context of associations and interactions is to ask ourselves is, “What kind of associate – or friend – are we to others, and what is the nature of our social interaction with others?” That is far more important than others’ associations with us. This is what will determine how you will be received when you re-enter. It will show up to your family and your community.

RED! Webzine will continue this conversation with Psychology of Incarceration facilitator and RED! columnist, Khalil Osiris. He will cover the remaining areas of the Criminogenic Needs Domains (Substance Abuse, Community Functioning, Personal and Emotional Orientation, and Attitude). Look for this in-depth discussion on why these Needs Domains are largely the most important part of an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individual’s road to transformation and positive life changes.  

Jeff Hillard

Khalil Osiris