by Joshua Arnold, Director of Operations
National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO)
In 2020, the City of North Las Vegas reopened their corrections facility with a new mission—to make a real difference in the lives of inmates. The goal of reducing recidivism can seem unobtainable or far-fetched, but when Jurea Williams was hired as the Community Services Specialist, she understood the tall task in front of her and was ready to make it happen. She began developing a program that didn’t just keep the inmate population occupied but also made a noticeable difference in recidivism.
This new program, called “I Am Possible”, is centered around drug treatment and personal responsibility.
Before anyone enters the program, they complete two different assessments to ascertain the level of substance abuse and the risk to reoffend. What makes the program unique is that it is not “one-size-fits-all.” Instead, it is designed for the individual members of class, and curriculum adjusts according to their unique needs. The pre-program assessments have revealed that the biggest common factor in severe drug abuse is the trauma related to the abuse. By confronting the underlying trauma and learning different methods of coping, the program participants can overcome the drug abuse itself.
What’s impressive is that each graduate does an evaluation of the program. Jurea Williams explained that in order to constantly improve the program, they want to learn about what they can do better. Participant feedback is critical in constantly raising the bar and making improvements.
One of the most important aspects of the program is the warm handoff that takes place when class participants are released from incarceration. Released individuals are put in contact with outside services and health care providers, as continuity of care is critical in reducing recidivism. WestCare has been instrumental in coordinating aftercare services. In addition they provide substance abuse counselors to assist with the program.
Captain Tate stressed the importance of also giving corrections officers the latitude to participate and become involved with the program. Since the inception of I Am Possible, he has been impressed with the engagement that custody staff members have demonstrated.
I spoke with Corrections Officer Canales and asked him about his experience with the program. He explained that when he first started supervising the program participants, he thought it was going to be a typical jail program where detainees just went through the motions and graduated. What he found was that this program is different. Individuals are held accountable. Officer Canales explained that it’s easy to tell which inmates are coming to the program for the right reasons, and inmates showing up for the wrong reasons are released from the program. The City of North Las Vegas Community Correctional Center wants to concentrate on the people who are ready for change and taking the course for the right reasons.
Since the program began in March 2020, only three participants out of twenty-three graduates has come back to jail—that’s an early indicator of success, but staff members realize that there’s more work to be done. They are making continual efforts develop the program, reduce recidivism, and change the lives of program participants.
If you would like to learn more about the “I Am Possible” program or are interested in starting a similar program in your own facility, please contact Jurea Williams. She has graciously offered her help and support to anyone seeking it.