Regional Alternatives in Forensic Treatment (RAFT)

Program Overview & Philosophy
RAFT, Regional Alternatives in Forensic Treatment, is part of a larger continuum of care a client needs to change his or her lifestyle. Recovering from chemical dependency is a life-long process and affects every relationship. Most clients need the non-stigma support of many community resources over a long period of time to reach a maintenance stage.

The desired benefit of this program is a decrease in use and an increase in life manageability: obeying laws, staying out of the system, improving relationships, and becoming a contributing citizen.

The group goal is "taking a good, long, hard, honest look at yourself," and the clients become the key determinants of their outcome in this program. They are each asked to share about their substance abuse and use, the consequences of this behavior in their lives, and the choices and options they have today.

Life Without a Crutch
Life Without a Crutch, currently used as the primary client text in over 300 correctional sites in the US, provides reading and homework assignments that allow the client to pursue an individualized process of open, self-exploration between sessions. Assignments are selected to encourage new insights and aid the group process. Clients are provided with books they can keep after the group ends. Audiocassettes are available for anyone with reading difficulties.

Teachable moments and sanctions are used as appropriate interventions. The signed client contract, another intervention, promotes responsibility and client awareness of the group's objectives.

RAFT, a comprehensive substance abuse outpatient program in collaboration with Community Corrections, is based on resource information indicating that there is greater client success in:
  • Outpatient group settings
  • 12-week programs
  • Programs that require client payment
  • Programs that address loss, alienation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and relationships
  • Programs that understand the dynamics of the criminal justice system
The client co-payment financially supports Community Corrections, but more importantly it fosters client pro-social behavior; increased participation; mature understanding; adult responsibility; a sense of being a capable human being; and less entitlement. In addition, the co-payment is the first group issue that pulls the group together and becomes "grist for the mill" as the group begins to sort out their feelings, likes, and dislikes.

Changing for Good
RAFT has been shown to be effective regardless of the client's stage of readiness for change, degree of dependence, or amount of previous treatment. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in Changing for Good, characterize the stages of change as pre-contemplation, contemplation, action, maintenance, and termination. Most clients involved with Community Corrections present in the pre-contemplative stage.

People with substance abuse issues must go through predictable phases of change:
  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Recognizing the problem
  3. Working hard to do something about the problem
  4. Maintaining and staying on track to stay clean and sober for the first month, first 9 months, and first year
RAFT's diagnostic and treatment process is not unlike that found in the medical treatment of other chronic diseases.

RAFT should be considered as an opportunity for both professionals and clients to make further assessment about future decisions pertaining to clients proactive functioning as citizens in their community.

Hurdles to Change
We do not claim that a majority of clients will make a total turn around in their lives during the 12-week program. Many clients have severe to moderate developmental delay, present with unresolved adult stage tasks, suffer from socioeconomic and cultural deprivation, and would benefit from parenting and habilitation. Recommendations for further services will reflect ongoing substance abuse and other psycho-social issues if needed. Nonetheless, following this program, most clients will make important "course corrections" that will benefit themselves, their family, and their community on a daily basis.

Far too often the criminal justice system fails to recognize what brings about long-lasting and significant change. Generally, lecturing, shaming, and punishment fail miserably to bring about positive turns in people's lives. Over time acceptance, respect, listening, understanding, valuing, and caring are much more effective.

New Perspective on Change
RAFT offers the client a unique grasp of what it takes for a person to move through the stages of change and address unproductive behavior, attitude, and perceptions while choosing more successful life alternatives. Providing information to the client about "what works" and not degrading her or him about "what did not work" reduces emotional damage and increases the likelihood of the client's appropriate contribution to his/her family and community.

This program represents a major effort Community Corrections can utilize to offer prevention strategies, address the revolving door of recidivism, and provide community safety. Our team approach with Community Corrections and the local court system assures improved communication and cooperation while promoting therapeutic justice for the offender, the victim, and the community. What affects one affects all.

Client Engagement
The CFTJ RAFT facilitator encourages the expression of feelings at the initial group session, and clients are immediately engaged in the group process. At this time, it is natural for a client to have strong feelings of resentment and anger. Most clients are outraged, because they do not believe they should have to pay for the group, they do not think they have any substance abuse issues; and they often believe they have already experienced injustice in the criminal justice system.

Understanding Addictions
Addiction is a feelings disease; therefore, feelings must be recognized, and this is done in a safe and supportive environment with an engaging, listening facilitator. The client not only has to recognize his or her own feelings, now each client is asked to recognize the feelings expressed by each of the group participants. Clients identify, empathize, and bond with one another, developing trust. Sharing a "common enemy" or problem, participants go through a collective catharsis of "getting it all out." This intervention provides the essential opportunity of "being heard and not judged."

Often, to the surprise of the client, this begins a first of a lifetime experience - a journey of self-exploration that was not intended or ever imagined. The crucial goal of the group for each individual, "to take a good, long, hard, honest look at yourself," supported by and through relationship with group peers and the group facilitator, is the catalyst for client awareness, responsibility, empowerment, and corrective action.

Group Sessions
As the group sessions continue, the therapeutic process is seen in an increased level of the group's expression of feelings and honesty. In addition, clients demonstrate a greater ability to listen to one another, respect differences, ask for help, share meaningful life experiences, and express care for one another. This is true whether they are admitting to an addiction and find fellow sufferers or if they are in denial and find support in mutual denial. The CFTJ RAFT facilitator promotes awareness and insight, cognitive dissonance, and discussion that results in client reevaluation of preconceived beliefs and family and societal programming. A typical client comes in resistant, expecting to be lectured, criticized, and shamed and finds, instead, that he or she is accepted, heard, and valued. Shame is considered to be the core of addiction, and raft is intentionally respectful of its role in preventing client engagement.

When a client is able to express, or watch other participants express remorse, loss, and then hope, it sparks longing for an improved quality of life. This propels the group through a remarkable and potentially attitude-changing process in a short amount of time. Participants begin to realize that they can transfer the awareness obtained in group to all their relationships. Hungry for more information, most clients state appreciation for being in the group and comment on how it has helped them when asked to complete the group evaluation. In addition and not surprisingly, there are always some clients that express a desire to continue the group.

More Information

For more information on Center for Therapeutic Justice, contact Co-Directors V. Morgan Moss, Jr., Ed.S., LPC or Penny B. Patton, Ed.S., LPC by emailing the center or calling 757-561-8907.