On May 13, 1999, North Country Thresholds and Decisions (NCTD) graduated seven inmate participants. Remarkably, two other inmates also escaped on that day. The facility was in “total lockdown.” The new superintendent cancelled all other programs, but due to the credibility that NCTD volunteers had established with Corrections staff during the past eight years, graduation commenced, involving graduates’ family guests as planned.
RSVP volunteers Dick and Betty Abbott introduced the program to the New Hampshire Department of Corrections in January 1991. While this program was not the first of its kind, it was unique in New Hampshire correctional facilities where volunteers had rarely been used successfully, and where rehabilitation programs were very limited.
Volunteers pay $25 to attend a basic training weekend, often led by the National Thresholds & Decisions Director, Penny Rogers. Sound decision-making is taught in individual and group sessions to inmates who volunteer to take the five-week course. Using parables, rituals, symbols, music, films and poetry, volunteer teachers help the inmates separate facts from feelings, examine choices available, make sound and reasoned decisions rather than reacting to situations, and take responsibility for their decisions. In the process, the students’ self-esteem is nurtured. They learn they are unique and valuable individuals. By graduation time, smiles and confidence abound in this usually strained and hostile environment. All dimensions of the program are voluntary, a fact essential to its success.
NCTD addresses a serious community need: making New Hampshire a safer place to live by reducing the incidence of criminal activity. NCTD also addresses one of the causes of crime – substance abuse. Many drug-abusing offenders acquire skills that help them make the decision to seek treatment for substance abuse. They also acquire a supportive, but objective friend to supplement treatment efforts. NCTD reaches out to inmates who will be returning to the community – as our co-workers, employees, and neighbors.
Since 1991, 12 basic training weekends have been held; involving 95 teacher trainees aged 22 to 82. Corrections staff have also taken the training for administrative purposes. Sixteen classes, or a total of 124 volunteer inmates, have now graduated from North Country Thresholds and Decisions. Two graduates have gone on to become Thresholds teachers. The program even received a substantial donation from the grateful parents of a participant. Currently, the recidivism rate for the general corrections population is 46%. Among the 150 NCTD graduates since 1991, the rate is only 19.8%.
Today, NCTD is still run entirely by volunteers and is now incorporated. Two RSVP volunteer teachers, Flo Taylor and Evelyn Smith coordinate the program at the Correctional Facility in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, while the Abbotts coordinate the course serving the Vermont department of Corrections Reparative Probation (adult) and Court Diversion Programs (youth) in White River Junction, Vermont. The Abbotts have also helped other Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs establish similar programs in Cheshire and Hillsborough Counties of New Hampshire.