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
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 three-year recidivism study of BTL graduates is very encouraging. This group represents all BTL graduates incarcerated in ID (Institutional Division) prisons and released from prison in 2011. The large and diversified sample group includes 863 inmates who participated in BTL in 28 different prisons. The recidivism rate for this group is 14%, including only 3% of offenders returning to prison for committing a violent crime. Nationwide, recidivism rates are reported to have remained "largely stable since the mid-1990s, varying between 38% and 40%" (Pew Center State of Recidivism Study, 2011).
The most recent Texas report shows a recidivism rate of 21.4% (Texas Legislative Board Report, 2015). The Texas recidivism rate has reduced from 33% for inmates released in 1999 to 21.4% for inmates released in 2011. BTL is one of the programs that has contributed to an overall decrease in recidivism in Texas, and BTL graduates show a significantly lower recidivism rate than the average for the nation and for Texas (BTL is 35% below the Texas average).
Another group of BTL graduates is the state jail participants. These inmates are incarcerated for less than two years. State jail recidivism rates are much higher than the Prison ID rates. A recent study of 367 BTL graduates released from 2007-2009 from state jails, shows a recidivism rate of 21.2%. The reports published by the Texas Legislative Board show that the average state jail recidivism for that same time period is 31.2% The BTL graduates recidivate at about one third less than the average state jail population (32% below the Texas average).
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 feedback 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 from five projects at various prisons. The participants completed the same six-page survey at the very beginning of the project as well as 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).
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.