A Collaborative interview with Jim Cosby, Tennessee Department of Correction and Patricia Weiland, TRICOR
By Susan Cunningham and Julie Perrey, TRICOR
A Reentry Collaboration – The Tennessee Department of Correction, TRICOR, the National Correctional Industries Association, and National Institute of Corrections all have a shared interest– increasing public safety by reducing an offender’s return to prison through education, treatment and job skill development. The following is an interview with two leaders in offender reentry.
In the offender reentry world, best practices show us that where there is a continuum of service providers working together and providing an array of services for offenders, the likelihood of an offender’s success upon reentry to the community is much greater. This is collaboration which is another name for partnerships, teamwork, associations and cooperation all of which require commitment and attention. Interviews were held to talk to two of the offender reentry leaders in Tennessee to hear their stories of commitment to innovation and change.
“Correctional Industries was Reentry before Reentry was Cool.” Those of us in correctional industries who have heard Patricia Weiland speak have heard these words from her as she talks about the critical role of CI in reentry and emphasizes that reentry is not new to CI. As the Chief Executive Officer of TRICOR, Ms. Weiland has been a leader in government and CI for over thirty years and has held multiple roles on a state, national and international level where she has paved a vision of how offenders can develop dignity, self-respect and have the opportunity to make a change in their lives. She has worked tirelessly through the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) and with TRICOR’s Board of Directors to raise the standards, expectations, and skills of the CI staff who also work tirelessly to teach, coach and supervise offenders. A founding member of the NCIA Reentry Task Force, she has been Chair of the task force since its inception.
In Tennessee, along with Ms. Weiland, the Tennessee Department of Correction’s (TDOC) Assistant Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services Jim Cosby has been serving Tennessee for thirty-three years. Soon, Assist. Commissioner Cosby is retiring from Tennessee to begin his national role with the National Institute of Corrections as the Chief of the Community Corrections Division. Significant changes have been made in policy and practices through the leadership of Mr. Cosby while working with the TDOC and The Board of Probation and Parole.
During our interview Asst. Comm. Cosby talked about what he considered were the most significant initiatives that he led in his State positions. There were two initiatives that he discussed that set a stage for increased criminal justice collaborations in Tennessee. In 2004, the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) grant provided additional technical training funding to the recipient States. The Tennessee contingent to Washington D.C. for this training was comprised of ten criminal justice professional leaders from government and non-profits who supported the Tennessee SVORI grant. Mr. Cosby and Ms. Weiland were two of the leaders in this group. The major outcome from this training was the establishment of the Tennessee Reentry Collaborative – TREC. TREC became the vehicle in Tennessee for state government to identify and take action on issues that were challenges in how government and non-government organizations worked to decrease the barriers to offender service delivery. The national barriers that offenders faced are the same in Tennessee and TREC members have worked together since 2004 to improve service delivery. While Mr. Cosby and the TDOC have been the key sponsor of TREC, TRICOR led the initiative with TREC members for the first Tennessee Offender Workforce Development Specialist Team, a National Institute of Corrections Initiative. The success of OWDS in TRICOR has subsequently led to the establishment of a NCIA OWDS Team which has conducted OWD training for CI’s across the country.
Under Mr. Cosby’s leadership, other successes through TREC include the involvement of veteran’s groups who now go into the prisons to work with veterans for reentry planning and support. Collaborative work has occurred to bring together agencies who are streamlining the processes for offenders to obtain state identification cards prior to release and address the issues of child support payments. He hopes that his department will continue these and other important efforts. This past year, TREC made a significant change to include and empower the local communities under the model of service in the community. Communities are actively developing their local TREC’s which participate in bi-monthly statewide video conferencing networking and reporting meetings.
During the interview with Ms. Weiland, she discussed the achievements of CI’s collaborations with NCIA and NIC and how learning from other organizations is incorporated within TRICOR. For example, the TRICOR Life Skills curriculum was developed with NIC. When annual reviews are made for updates, best practices are used from training that TRICOR staff has received through NIC. Thinking For a Change, a NIC best practice, is a TRICOR core curriculum. Ms. Weiland is one of the correctional industry experts who frequently works with NIC when developing curriculum for CI staff.
Mr. Cosby and Ms. Weiland have brought the principals and practices of evidenced based practices to Tennessee’s correctional system which has lead to greater alignment in both agencies approaches to reentry service delivery. It is evident in how the partnership between the TDOC and TRICOR has evolved when Mr. Cosby says,
“TRICOR is important. This is the first time in the lives of many offenders that they are responsible; that they must show up for their job, have goals, be supervised with requirements, and their work performance is reviewed. This is parallel to the real world; the more parallel the better results you will have. The program includes evidence- based programs such as cognitive restructuring and on-the-job skills training. We are better off when we can provide these programs.”
When talking with Ms. Weiland about the evolution of CI and partnerships, she emphasized that
“At a time when budgets are low and performance expectations high, we all must determine how to get the most from our available resources. CI is capable of addressing a number of the areas considered high risk factors for recidivism all through the context of work. We are making the most of the time an offender spends in CI by including not only occupational skills training but also cognitive behavior programming and life skills. Through the TDOC/TRICOR partnership we have worked together to maximize the resources of both agencies to improve our offender success rate after release. NIC and NCIA have been valuable partners with TRICOR in this initiative providing ongoing resources and professional development opportunities. This has truly been a collaborative effort on a multitude of levels.”
Whether it is in the offender risk assessment model used in Tennessee, delivery of educational and vocational courses, job training and career development delivered in prisons, treatment programs offered or in the approach used for developing staff to best address the needs of offenders, these two leaders of reentry are visionaries who are difference makers.
Mr. Cosby takes his experience with him to our partner, NIC. The TRICOR community wishes him the best in his transition and future initiatives. When looking forward to his new role at NIC, Jim expressed his excitement when saying. “As a practitioner, I looked to NIC for best practices and subject matter expertise. I look forward to being able to learn from others and bring those practices into play through my new role.” We look forward to the continued partnership with Mr. Cosby on the national level in the practice of offender reentry. We are proud to introduce Mr. Cosby to our peers at NCIA and encourage your involvement with the NIC programs.