BJA 2023 Spotlight, Michigan

Today’s challenges in corrections often revolve around retention and recruitment. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a recent agency-wide addition to the training at the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). This training aids retention by giving staff a new sense of purpose, connecting them to their work, and ultimately making them feel more engaged. Not only is MI useful with inmates and offenders, but it is also helpful in any aspect of communicating with others, including co-workers. Three employees have been instrumental in the rollout of this new training initiative: Teresa Chandler, Tylene Porter, and Jackie Gallant.

Teresa Chandler serves as a Statewide Human Resource Developer-Specialist at MDOC. She is a thirty-year veteran of the agency who received the MDOC Professional Excellence Award in 2007 and 2019.  She earned an associate degree in Criminal Justice with a minor specialty in American Sign Language from Mott Community College and a bachelor’s in Family Life Education from Spring Arbor University.

Jackie Gallant serves as a Probation Supervisor in the Ingham County Probation Office. She is an eighteen-year veteran of the agency and received her bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University. In addition to her role as a supervisor, she serves as an MI part-time trainer and is a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers.

Tylene Porter serves as a Parole and Probation Supervisor in the Lahser District Probation Office. She is a sixteen-year veteran of the agency. In addition to her role as a supervisor, she serves as an MI part-time trainer. In 2020 she was a finalist for the Agent of the Year Award. She holds a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Wayne State University and a master’s in Public Policy from Central Michigan. 

The initiative started in 2017, and to date, nearly 6,000 employees have completed MI training at the agency. Primary challenges faced in implementing this initiative include the standard resistance to change, misunderstanding of the skillset, and the pandemic aftermath of virtual instruction and staff shortages. The trainers indicated that staff are able to recognize the benefits of what they are already doing and build upon the MI practices to become more effective. They allow open conversations about participants’ concerns with MI at the training sessions. To work through virtual instruction, trainers researched and adapted to a virtual delivery of a highly interactive training. The success of this initiative is attributed in part to the overall willingness of trainers to ask participants for feedback and listen to what they had to say to improve the training. This process continues today, and the trainers adapt as needed.  

The effectiveness of MI is seen in how it helps to alleviate stress staff experiences when interacting with difficult people. Jackie sees MI as a starting point to reduce resistance when someone is reluctant to change their behavior and believes a MI mindset and heart are needed in the field of corrections. Tylene received communication from a colleague who responded to a suicidal peer’s cry for help. They stated that going through MI helped prepare them to get the peer help needed to save their life. Teresa regularly hears from staff that the course is life-affirming, helping them at work and home.   

 Jackie said that MI allowed her to remember her “why” for being in corrections. Teaching MI allows her to impact others outside of her office for the greater good of MDOC.  

Tylene recommends that anyone needing to effect change in their agency be open to listening and hearing different ideas. She also says you have to be receptive to dialogue about what is going on in institutions and facilities and listen to how changes or lack thereof could impact all staff.    

Teresa stressed the importance of developing healthy working relationships with all areas of the department’s workforce and being responsive to the needs of your audience. She said MDOC “is full of amazing human beings with a plethora of life experiences. Don’t discount any of them.”    

We congratulate Teresa Chandler, Jackie Gallant, and Tylene Porter with MDOC on their successful innovative training initiative to better prepare and support staff long-term.