One of the many benefits of living in Laramie, WY, is the proximity we have to the great outdoors. Only a short 15 minute drive from Handel’s offices one finds pristinely groomed Nordic ski trails at Pole Mountain. Maintained by Medicine Bow Nordic Association and head-groomer Randy Hulme, several Handelites are found on these trails throughout the winter months. On Friday, January 29, a group of employees took some time off in the afternoon to enjoy these trails. Following the “work hard, play hard” mentality found at Handel, it was a good opportunity to get outside and enjoy some of the fresh Wyoming mountain air.
Time flies and it is hard to believe it has been three years since Ben McKay became a part of team Handel. Congratulations on your anniversary Ben. We appreciate everything you for the team spirit and for our customers. Here is to many more! Ben’s 3 year award was inscribed “For 3 Years of Great Project Management and Canine Care”. We appreciate Ben’s four-legged companions at the Handel office.
My personal introduction to Handel IT and the RiteTrack software system (see my previous blog) was in no small part due to the topic of seclusion. While the topic of seclusion and room confinement is bigger than RiteTrack software, seclusion has become a big issue for juvenile and adult facilities in Ohio and across the country.
As the former director of the Perry Multi-CountyJuvenile Facility, I served a mandate to provide rehabilitation to juveniles in a correctional setting, rather than a punitive punishment in an institutional setting. I firmly believed that seclusion, as a form of punishment, was detrimental to our philosophy of assisting and helping youth. In short, if you locked a juvenile in a room (seclusion), how would you expect him to reintegrate into a therapeutic treatment model without unintended consequences such as an unwillingness to engage in a treatment program? My belief is that seclusion, used solely as punishment, was counter to a treatment philosophy of engagement and making better choices. Although as a director, I also understand that there were times in which the only means of protecting an individual youth, my staff and the facility as a whole was seclusion. These issues of when is seclusion necessary, when is seclusion needed, and when does seclusion become a punitive issue are concerns that all directors deal with in our profession. They are also issues that, at some point in time, we have to give answers to for why we did what we did and why we made the decisions we made.
When I had to provide a total of the number of seclusion hours for 2013 in our facility, I believed that my total number of hours would be pretty low (fewer than 100 hours). After all, I opposed room confinement as a form of punishment. After we compiled the numbers, I was surprised to learn that I had signed off on over 300 hours of seclusion for my youth during 2013. That is more than three times my original estimation, and that high number made me re-think my role as a director. Not only had I not stayed true to my principle that seclusion had to be used on a very limited basis, but also my standard had not been transferred to my staff in a way that put that principle into practice at our facility.
In April of 2014, two months after collecting that seclusion data for the state, I watched a PBS Frontline special presentation on seclusion in the Maine State Prison. Prison Warden, Rodney Boufford, was actively attempting to reduce seclusion hours for his inmate population. While I understand that the inmates Warden Boufford was dealing with were much different from the juveniles I was dealing with, the topic of seclusion is still very relevant. It was very interesting to see the inmates in Maine and hear what they were saying, while also hearing from the warden, supervisors, line staff, psychologist and others who oversee them on a daily basis. I was surprised that the idea of reducing isolation was even present in a state institution with very violent and aggressive felons and a generally negative-thinking atmosphere. However, they were not only thinking of reducing seclusion hours; they were beginning to implement it. The show takes about an hour to watch, and I recommend it as an important segment for those involved in corrections.
The Frontline special and new statistics required by the state of Ohio got me thinking. Am I, as an administrator, doing enough to reduce the confinement times in my facility, and do our policies as a facility reflect our need to reduce confinement time? At our monthly supervisory meeting a few days after watching Frontline, I addressed the need to revamp our policies and procedures and to eliminate room confinement as an issue of punishment and time and as appropriate only in cases where the safety of staff and others is at risk. Our current policies were time-focused (i.e., one incident equals so many hours of confinement). Our new policies would be behavior-focused whenever youth were complying and there was no documented threat to the safety of the staff or other youth. The new policies would encourage youth to begin the process or re-engaging into the general population and everyday activities. Because the facility activities were meant to be therapeutic and if you could get the youth to engage in therapeutic opportunities, then you could begin treatment.
While my ideas were agreed upon overall, there were many who expressed reservations. I heard concerns such as the changes I championed would “harm the staff and would make youth believe that we were not serious about dealing with behavioral issues.” Some felt that if we made these changes, focusing on reducing room confinement, that “someone, another youth or a staff member would be hurt.” I listened to all of their issues and then I encouraged my supervisory staff to view the video and then come back to me with their thoughts. I also asked each one of them to estimate the number of seclusion hours that they believe we had accumulated in 2013. I had not given them our actual number, but I had used the number of 300+ seclusion hours as my example. Every single person asked gave me a number that was much lower than that. So I challenged them to watch the video to see what they are doing in the State of Maine and then to tell me why we couldn’t do the same thing in our facility. I also told them that the number of seclusion hours that they all had estimated for 2013 was a very different number than what we had actually accumulated. My point was that we thought we were doing well, but the 2013 seclusion hours showed me that as a group we had failed.
At our next meeting we addressed the topic of seclusion and this time there were very few detractors. All the supervisory staff agreed that we needed to reduce our confinement time, and that we needed also to continue to do our duty to protect the other youth and the staff and maintain the therapeutic environment of the facility. To do all those things we needed to create a balance between protection and seclusion. That balance needed to be evident in our policies and procedures, as well as in our thinking and in our implementation. We agreed that if we could create a balance, then we would better fulfill the need and responsibility for both safety and treatment.
The topic of seclusion was also very relevant in Ohio at the time. The Ohio Department of Youth Services was under federal monitoring for various reasons, and nearing the end of the monitoring the issue of seclusion or room confinement became a concern. The state began addressing how it could reduce seclusion hours of youth. In addition to its being a valid issue, it was also a requirement for “getting out from under federal monitors.” Recently Ohio Department of Youth Series was released from the lawsuit and has made very progressive and needed changes in seclusion hours.
See these two articles: Lawsuit over: Everyone won and Judge ends federal monitoring monitoring of Ohio’s youth prison system
The article above from the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: “The state has also dramatically rolled back its use of solitary confinement – also called ‘seclusion’. An infraction that brings 8 hours of seclusion now would have been punished with 600 hours of seclusion when the lawsuit was filed, according to Cynthia Coe, a U.S. Justice Department attorney involved with the case.”
I was surprised when I read those numbers and remember having to re-read the paragraph again. “…infraction that brings 8 hours now would have been punished with 600 hours.” This was the trend in corrections in adult and juvenile systems just 7 years ago. I was amazed at how “behind” we as a corrections community were, but also pleased with how far we have come.
Looking back, I wonder if I would have addressed the issue of seclusion quicker in my facility if I had had valid data that would have given me a better understanding of seclusion hours. In the recent JDAI reporting the finding suggested the following:
“’The revised JDAI Detention Facility Standards prohibit the use of room confinement for discipline, punishment, administrative convenience, retaliation, staffing shortages, or reasons other than as a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate harm to a youth or others,’a JDAI summary of strategies to eliminate unnecessary use of room confinement states.” -Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
The JDAI recommendations and goals also address the topic of using data to make informed and educated decisions. If I had a RiteTrack system in my facility just two years ago, I wonder if I would have been more progressive in my decision-making because of the quality data and better statistics generated from the solution to help support better-educated decisions. Because not only would I have had up-to-date and valid data for the day, months and year, but I could have been tracking the data more effectively rather than relying on an end-of-the-year report.
I believe that many of my former colleagues share my belief that room confinement is necessary, on a limited basis, especially due to the nature of the work we perform. However, I also believe that directors and administrators want to always balance the safety of the facility without violating the rights of our youth. With a balance of protection and safety of rights in our policies and procedures and implementations, we can achieve the ideal of safely treating and serving troubled youth. The RiteTrack software system can and will assist administrators in creating that balance at their facilities.
Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself and tell you the story of how I became associated and eventually employed at Handel IT. My name is Steve Koenig and I was working as a Director in a juvenile correction facility in Ohio and really enjoyed my job. I enjoyed helping kids and I enjoyed seeing kids change and learn from their mistakes. I often enjoyed the challenges and struggles of working in a state-funded facility and working through the bureaucracy of trying to navigate the rules and politics to get things accomplished. However, in working with various standards and oversight I often became discouraged by the system that was inefficient and outdated; that still relied on paper to track incident reports, Excel spreadsheets to track data, and overall a paper system to run a facility.
In February of 2014 I received a call from the state requesting hours of seclusion in my facility for 2013. As all good Directors would answer–hoping to avoid the pending project–I said, “I didn’t know we were required to track seclusion hours.” Of course, my excuse did not work and the facility not tracking seclusion didn’t resolve the issue. The state kindly informed me that I would need to provide seclusion hours to the state by the end of the workweek. I pulled three staff from their normal job duties and put them on the task of reviewing every incident report from 2013 in order to tabulate seclusion data. All of our incident reports were documented on paper forms, which we had stored in binders, but hundreds of paper documents and hundreds and hundreds of paper forms (6 to 8 binders full) had to be reviewed. I had a great staff who worked very hard and they were able to collect the data in about 4 days, but I was a little hesitant about the validity of the data and concerned whether or not it was completely correct. What if we had missed a page in looking through all the paper binders? Not that my staff weren’t diligent, but they are human and humans make mistakes and this process was rushed and error prone. A few days later after I submitted our report I was thinking that there has to be a better way of doing business in a juvenile correction facility. At the end of February I spoke with my contact at the state and said, “We are now required to meet over 400 standards of ACA, PREA and other state standards but we are using the same process that was used in 1960, a paper process to collect data…there has to be a better way.” My contact agreed and said, “You have a great point; go find something and if it’s the right price and meets your needs then we can explore it further.”
So I began my search. While looking I found a lot of IT companies that were willing to customize a client-based data system to meet our needs but I also found that it would be work intensive and very expensive. I then came upon Handel IT and the RiteTrack software solution. We invited various vendors to do presentations and it became very clear that RiteTrack was the only software that was both cost effective and affordable and that met all of our needs. RiteTrack is a system that helps you to efficiently track, manage and report on the services you provide to your youth. It also allows you as an administrator to manage your facility more effectively, reducing the time spent on paperwork, and allowing more time providing services to the people that you are charged to serve. I became so impressed and inspired by RiteTrack that I chose to join the Handel team. Now my career mission has changed from providing services to youth to going throughout the country to all the youth-serving facilities to share with them a “better way” and the great benefits of the RiteTrack software system.
I look forward to my new opportunities and my new experiences with Handel. I also look forward to meeting new administrators and presenting the RiteTrack software to their various facilities. My hope and my belief is that our software system will benefit your facility allowing you, as service providers, to do more of what we chose this line of work for; allowing us more time to provide youth services while reducing our dependence in paperwork and functioning in outdated and inefficient systems. If you are interested in hearing more about our RiteTrack Juvenile Detention Model, please contact me at email@example.com. I would appreciate the opportunity to give you a personal or on-line demo about the capabilities of our RiteTrack system.
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