The Bridges To Life program has two main goals: (1) to reduce recidivism rates of program graduates and (2) to facilitate the healing process for both victims and offenders.
The program's first goal is achieved through offenders’ participation in and completion of a 14-week process during which offenders and victims are brought together in a small group format with a facilitator. The achievement of this goal is directly measured through data collected and recorded by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and is explained below.
The program’s second goal is achieved through the dialogue between victim volunteers and offenders. Although there is no way to directly measure the benefit to victims, they often comment that they receive more benefit from the Bridges To Life process than do the offenders. ”
With the assistance of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and other essential partners, Bridges To Life has scheduled 73 projects in 30 Texas prisons, as well as juvenile facilities and alternative facilities in 2013. Our goal is to graduate 3,100 offenders from Bridges To Life programs with the help of more than 400 volunteers.
Evaluation. Both quantitative (data and statistics) and qualitative (reports from program participants) are used to evaluate the achievement of Bridges To Life’s goals.
Quantitative Evaluation. With the assistance of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Bridges To Life tracks a large sample of offenders after they are released from prison, reviewing pertinent data on a semi-annual basis. This data allows BTL to keep an up-to-date record of offender participants and how many return to prison (recidivate) after their release.
The latest completed sample of BTL graduates for 3 year recidivism rates is very encouraging. The large, diversified sample group includes 1,693 inmates who participated in BTL in 17 different prisons and were released from 2005 to 2009. The recidivism rate for this group is 18.55% and is broken out into
Offenders returning for committing new crimes—16.2% (274)
Offenders returning for technical violations of parole—2.4% (40)
Offenders returning to prison for committing a violent crime—2.0% (34)
Nationwide, these rates are reported to have remained “largely stable since the mid-1990’s,” varying between 38% and 40%. (Pew Center State of Recidivism Study 2011). A subset of the above BTL study includes 558 inmates released from 12 various TDCJ Institutional Division (ID Units), long term prisons that house more violent offenders. We are pleased to report that the recidivism rate for this group is 14.7%, with only 1.3% returning for a violent crime. This is in comparison with Texas reports that inmates released in 2005 and 2006 from ID prisons had a recidivism rate of 26 to 27% (Texas Legislative Board Report 2009 and 2011). BTL is one of the programs that has contributed to a decrease in recidivism in Texas, and BTL graduates still show a significantly lower recidivism rate than the average for the nation and for Texas.
Qualitative Evaluation. Additional evidence of the impact of the BTL program on offender participants as well as evidence of the success of BTL’s second goal—to facilitate healing for the victims of crime—is evaluated based upon qualitative data gathered from comments from victim and offender participants after completing the Bridges To Life process.
Offenders. With the assistance of a professor at the University of Texas (UT) Social Work Department, an anonymous pre- and post- survey was conducted with about 120 Bridges To Life inmate participants in five projects at various prisons. They completed the same 6-page survey at the very beginning of the project and at the end. The survey measured change in four key areas: Spirituality and relationship with God, Forgiveness – both forgiving others and receiving forgiveness from others and God, Relationship and interaction with others, and Empathy (and related compassion) for others.
Analyses showed “significant change” in all four areas, the strongest rating for this survey, indicating a very successful outcome from these Bridges To Life classes. Offenders continue to complete an evaluation form at the end of each project. Based on an analysis of approximately 900 evaluation forms, several themes were apparent. These themes were: (1) impact, (2) caring, (3) self knowledge, (4) wanting more and (5) transformation. Said one offender: I learned to be responsible as an individual, owning up to my actions, instead of denying them all the time.
Victims. Facilitation of the healing process for victims is achieved through the dialogue between victim volunteers and offenders. Although there is no way to directly measure the benefit to victims, they often comment that they receive more benefit from the Bridges To Life process than do the offenders. Said one victim volunteer: “Not only do the victims get to share their story and begin healing, they also know that they may make an impact, by putting a face to the crime, on the lives of people who may otherwise go out and commit those same crimes again.”
Perhaps the single best indicator that healing is taking place for victim volunteers is the fact that, since its inception in 2000, more than 400 victim volunteers have participated in the Bridges To Life program, and nearly 125 participate every year—many in more than one project annually. You can see more of these comments here.
Graduate Story: Jason Heffner, who completed the BTL program at the maximum security Beto Prison, was the product of a very troubled home—neglect, abuse, addiction - all circumstances so typical in the lives of BTL offenders. He started drinking at age seven and never finished high school. He was convicted of felony drug possession, felony flight to avoid prosecution, and conspiracy to commit capital murder against a public official.
"I thought I was doing these things to survive. Bridges To Life taught me for the first time that I was hurting people and didn’t have a right to do these things to people...See, I always felt sorry for myself. I thought I was the victim. I had to learn to face me, Jason Heffner."
Jason has been out of prison for several years and is leading a life filled with amazing acts of restitution. He was a volunteer fire fighter with the county fire and rescue department, where he has saved the lives of several accident victims. He told me that he dedicated every life he saved to BTL, since it was BTL that saved his life.