CMIT and MINT Train Probation Officers on Motivating Change in Offenders

Members of MINT that presented the training were (l to r) Mark Asteris, Susan Orendac and Greg Sumpter.

The Correctional Management Institute of Texas recently held part one of a three-phased training to teach juvenile and adult probation officers a new way of dealing with offenders to bring about long term changes in their lives and to reduce recidivism.

“Motivational interviewing will improve the outcomes of the kids we work with because it encourages them to take responsibility for making changes rather than placing the responsibility on the officer,” said Matt Smith of Williamson County Juvenile Services, which handles about 1,400 juvenile cases a year ranging from runaways to aggravated sexual assault.

For years, probation officers would advise and direct offenders, giving them information on what to do and how to do it. “We would attempt to fix, solve, or cure their problems for them,” said Susan Orendac, a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), a MITA trainer and probation officer with the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. “Motivational interviewing seeks to illicit a plan for change by honoring choices and autonomy.”

Under Motivational Interviewing, the offender is put in the driver’s seat to develop a plan to change targeted issues or behaviors. Research has found it is the most effective method to bring about long term change and to reduce recidivism. “It is strengthening the personal motivation and commitment to special goals by listening and exploring a person’s own reasons for change within an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion,” said Mark Asteris, a member of MINT, a MITA Trainer and an Adult Probation Officer in Jefferson County.

Began in 1983 with substance abusing clients, the technique has been adopted in many disciplines, including the health care, mental health, AIDs and HIV, diabetic management and effective classroom management, to name a few. In criminal justice, it has been used for mental health medication management, sex offender compliance, intimate partner violence and adolescents and young adults, said Asteris.

There are four elements that comprise the “spirit” of Motivational Interviewing: collaboration, autonomy/support, evocation and compassion.

“In the past, we might not have always seen this as collaboration,” said Greg Sumpter, a MINT member and MITA trainer that works with Tarrant County Juvenile Services. “It is now our frame of reference going in. It’s a give and take, and not my agenda. We acknowledge there is a choice instead of putting on airs that I can make someone change. Compassion means that I am always looking for the best interest of my client.”

Participants included juvenile and adult probation officer from Texas.
Partipants included juvenile and adult probation officers from Texas.
In criminal justice, the collaboration is a partnership between the probation officer and offender to work together. With autonomy and support, it is the offender’s choice to make a change or not. Evocation is allowing the offender to bring out his or her own reason for change. Compassion involves aiding the offender along the way. Empathy, the ability to identify with the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of another, is also a key feature in the process.

“This doesn’t mean that you are soft or letting offenders get away with non-compliance,” said Orendac. “Instead of wrestling, you are dancing together toward a change. Motivational Interviewing uses strategies to produce an outcome for change. It is not laissez faire.”

The Motivational Interviewing Training Academy, hosted by CMIT, was developed by members of MINT. Over the next eight months, participants will attend three classroom sessions at CMIT and will receive remote skill coding and coaching between sessions. Participants reaching demonstrated proficiencies with a validated metric will have the opportunity to utilize their MI skills and resources within their own jurisdiction. The Motivational Interviewing Training Academy is designed to develop and build an agency’s internal capacity in the use, implementation and sustainment of Motivational Interviewing.

“The institute is excited to partner with MINT members to build the internal capacity for departments to train MI as another tool for strengthening community corrections outcomes in an efficient manner and we look forward to hosting additional academies in MI." said Doug Dretke, Executive Director of CMIT.

Member of The Texas State University System