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Program aims to keep criminals from reoffending

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - The state prison in Airway Heights is experimenting with ways to keep lifelong criminals from reoffending.

The latest program specifically targets repeat offenders who have already been in and out of prison several times Prison officials said locking them up isn't working. As a result, counselors are trying to change the way the inmates deal with their problems. 

Inmate Apelu Tamau said he didn't know a word of English when he moved to the area from American Samoa. It embarrassed him as a child, and instead of going to school, Tamau learned his social skills on the streets.

"So growing up in that environment, it was really tough for me because there was always violence. There was always drugs," said Tamau.

Program aims to keep criminals from reoffending

But now Tamau and 130 other inmates are enrolled in more than a dozen behavior changing classes.

"If we change how we think in a situation, then we'll have a different outcome right?" said Tamau.

Inmates who grew up in gangs took what they wanted by force and completely missed the give and take techniques needed to function in society. The offenders are now learning about self-respect, two-way communication and thinking out the consequences of their actions.

"Teaching them actual living skills, social skills, problem solving skills, so they can make the choice to behave and think differently," said Correctional Program Manager Kay Heinrich.

Tamau has five more years in his 20-year-sentence but says the offender change lessons have already opened his eyes to his self destructive behavior.

"I'm glad this program exists because it helped me become a better person and a better man. (It also helped me) know I am worth it and I can make a change in my life," said Tamau.

In other states, the "offender change" program, has reduced the reoffending rate by 30 percent.