Photo credit:QuotesEverlasting per Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting per Creative Commons license.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove to Omaha to attend the second annual graduation ceremony for offenders under supervision who had successfully completed the intensive Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) program utilized by the Supervision Unit of our superb United States Probation office.  It was a heart-warming experience and, more importantly, a hopeful one.

What is MRT and why does US Probation use it? In answer to that question, consider the following:

*I detest the name “Moral Reconation Therapy” because it sounds creepy and because it is based on a word that is not typically used in modern parlance. The word “conation” is an archaic term for the word “ego” as that term is used in structural models of the mind. “Reconation” means, very roughly, to “reboot” the “ego.”

*Facilitated by specially trained US Probation Officers, MRT is utilized in a group setting over 18 to 20 weeks. Offenders are helped to recognize and more appropriately deal with the moral dimensions of daily living through very practical step-by-step aids. More specifically, MRT seeks to move offenders from a lower, hedonistic level of moral reasoning (pleasure vs. pain) to a higher level where social rules and other people become important.

*MRT is based on the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to mental health treatment. CBT (1) focuses on specific problems of daily living and (2) is “action oriented” in the sense that the therapist assists the client in selecting specific strategies to address those specific problems. MRT then is properly seen as a branch of the more widely known and accepted CBT tree.

*Because MRT focuses on morality as an expression of free will, and because MRT is not strictly behavioral in orientation, one need not fear that the treatment is a “Clock Work Orange” approach to dealing with offenders.

*There is good evidence that MRT has a small but statistically significant relationship  to lowered rates of recidivism.

*MRT is only small part of the overall supervision of offenders, but it is an important one.

Although US Probation has been using MRT for some time, this was only the second “graduation” ceremony. Last year, the coordinator of the MRT program decided that completion of MRT justified a formal recognition of the offenders’ achievement. That ceremony was successful, and so it was duplicated again this year.

The ceremony was held in one of our stately courtrooms in the beautiful Hruska Courthouse in Omaha. Our Chief Judge, Laurie Smith Camp, spoke to the graduates and handed a small token of appreciation to the graduates as each one was formally and individually recognized (and applauded).  Two of the graduates spoke. Quite incidentally, I had sentenced those two. Their talks were inspiring. Family, friends, and even prosecutors, filled up the courtroom and then shared refreshments afterwards. I certainly hope these graduation ceremonies become woven into the fabric of the life of our court. They are good for the soul.

One last observation is in order. If we are to reduce the length of prison sentences so as to reduce costs, we must also increase, and substantially so, our ability to supervise offenders when they get out of prison. Providing quality supervision that protects the public requires a lot of time and hard work. That our US Probation Office conducts MRT groups throughout the year for offenders in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island in addition to performing the more traditional law-enforcement functions of supervision, exemplifies a smart strategy that can reduce recidivism. FYI to Congress: Supervision that protects the public can’t be done on the cheap, particularly if it is an alternative to incarceration.


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