InnerChange Freedom Initiative (Minnesota) is a voluntary, faith-based prisoner reentry program that attempts to reduce recidivism by preparing inmates for reintegration from prison to the community. The program seeks to promote positive values and address the criminogenic needs of participants by educating inmates in a variety of areas, including substance abuse, victim-impact awareness, life-skills development, cognitive skill development, moral development, education, community reentry, and religion. Although the program promotes Christianity, the InnerChange program is open to both Christians and non-Christians. Additionally, the InnerChange program matches each offender with a mentor in the community and engages the community by involving local churches in program activities, with the belief that such support and ties to the community will reduce the recidivism rate of participants.
Overall the InnerChange program hypothesizes that the program can obtain its goal of reduced recidivism through a variety of program components:
- using Christian philosophies that promote a crime-free lifestyle and prosocial behaviors
- addressing the criminogenic needs of program participants,
- including high-risk offenders,
- housing program participants together, and
- ensuring that program participants receive a “continuum of care” so that their guidance and support does not stop once they are released from prison but instead continues into the community.
The InnerChange program is based on research that shows interventions that target the risks, needs, and responsivity (RNR) of offenders, as well as those that include a continuum of care, are typically effective at changing problem behavior and reducing recidivism (Lowenkamp, Latessa, and Holsinger 2006; Dowden, Antonowicz, and Andrews 2003). The RNR model (Andrews and Bonta 2003; Andrews, Bonta, and Hoge 1990) includes three core principles:
- Risk Principle: The level of services should be matched to the level of offender. High-risk offenders should receive more intensive services; low-risk offenders should receive minimal services.
- Need Principle: Target criminogenic needs with services—that is, target those factors that are associated with criminal behavior. Such factors might include substance abuse, procriminal attitudes, and criminal associates. Do not target other, noncriminogenic factors (such as emotional distress, self-esteem issues) unless they act as a barrier to changing criminogenic factors.
- Responsivity Principle: The ability and learning style of the offender should determine the style and mode of intervention. Research has shown the general effectiveness of using social learning and cognitive-behavioral style interventions.
The InnerChange program has incorporated aspects of RNR research in its program. For example, the program targets higher-risk offenders, is geared toward addressing the criminogenic needs of program participants, and ensures that program participants receive a continuum of care.
The InnerChange program is offered to male inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF), a medium-security prison. Although the program is privately funded and largely operated by volunteers from local churches and religious organizations, the security, housing, and other general inmate expenses are the responsibility of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MnDOC). The program typically includes 40 men at a time and begins about 18 to 24 months before participants’ release.
The program includes three phases, with Phases 1 and 2 completed in prison during which the men live in the same housing unit. Phase 3 occurs after release. Phase 1 typically lasts 12 months and serves as the foundation of the program. During this phase, the InnerChange curriculum is taught during a 3-hour instruction session in the morning, followed by an afternoon session focusing on education or work, and an additional programming session in the evening. The curriculum in Phase 1 is divided into 4 quarters: quarter 1 introduces participants to the core values of InnerChange and teaches important cognitive and moral skills; quarters 2 and 3 stress the importance of offenders’ accepting responsibility for their deviant acts, while also covering important reentry and addiction topics; quarter 4 educates participants on chemical dependency and steps to prevent relapse.
Phase 2 typically lasts at least 6 months, during which the men spend their days working within the facility and evenings attending classes. During this phase, each man is matched with a member of the community who serves as his mentor for the remainder of the program. In addition to weekly meetings with their mentors, offenders work with InnerChange counselors to discuss their reentry plan and establish individualized goals. Phase 2 ends when the offender is released from prison.
Phase 3, the reentry phase, occurs once the offender has been released from prison and lasts 12 months. During this phase the offender’s mentor, as well as other InnerChange staff, assist the offender with the transition process, specifically aiding in his development of positive prosocial relationships. It is believed that developing relationships with individuals who are positively involved in their communities will create a positive environment for the offender and further aid in the transition process. Moreover, InnerChange attempts to counteract the struggles of housing and employment by working with various housing and employment agencies on behalf of the men in the program.
Overall, Duwe and King (2012) found that InnerChange Freedom Initiative participants had lower recidivism rates than nonparticipants for three of the four recidivism measures. Additionally, varying levels of recidivism rates were found for program participants. For example, completers had lower recidivism rates than dropouts, and participants who continued to meet with their mentors had lower rates than participants who did not meet with their mentors at all or met with them only while in prison.
Differences between the treatment and control groups were found for rearrest, as 42 percent of InnerChange participants were rearrested, compared with 59 percent of the comparison group. When controlling for group differences, the analysis showed that participation in the InnerChange program significantly decreased the hazard ratio by 26 percent for rearrest.
The InnerChange program also impacted reconviction, as 25 percent of the experimental group were reconvicted, compared with 44 percent of the comparison group. When controlling for group differences, the analysis showed that participation in the InnerChange program significantly decreased the hazard ratio by 35 percent for reconvictions.
Reincarceration was also impacted by the InnerChange program: 8 percent of the program participants were reincarcerated, compared with 22 percent of the comparison group. When controlling for group differences, the analysis showed that participation in the InnerChange program significantly decreased the hazard ratio by 40 percent for reconvictions.
Although 33 percent of participants in the InnerChange program received a revocation for a technical violation, compared with 40 percent in the comparison group, when controlling for group differences, the analysis showed that participation in the InnerChange program did not have a statistically significant impact on revocations.