Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Promising Practices

Rehabilitative Diversion Unit


North Carolina Department of Public Safety/Prisons

Brief Summary

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety recognized the need to modify the use of long-term restrictive housing for , where inmates remain in the facility 24 hours a day and have no assignments outside of the facility. In response to recommendations by the Vera Institute of Justice, the department created an alternative housing unit as a diversion program for those who were typically housed in restrictive housing due to serious, violent infractions. The rehabilitative diversion unit (RDU) supports the mission statement of DACJJ to provide safe, secure, and humane treatment to incarcerated individuals through programs that reduce violence and promote safety. Individuals who participated in the RDU saw their infraction rates—for any rule violations—decline by 99 percent while participating in the program. After those same people returned from RDU to the general population, their infraction rates remained 77.4 percent lower than before their entry to the RDU.

The Goal

  • Decrease violence and promote safety both within the prison and in the community
  • Decrease length of time individuals spend in a segregated unit
  • Decrease the number of individuals being released to the community directly from restrictive housing
  • Reduce psychological stress common with a restrictive environment while providing individuals the opportunity to demonstrate necessary pro-social behaviors and progress out of restrictive housing
  • Aid individuals’ successful transition back to the general population or the community

The Process

Marion Correctional Institution was chosen by Division Administration to pilot the RDU program, and a program director with prior experience with NCDPS—as well as behavior modification programming in a segregation setting—was appointed to develop, implement, and oversee the project.

  • Physical modifications were required to the facility in order to address safety concerns, such as incorporating medical and behavioral health services offices on multiple housing.
  • Operationally, adjustments were made to policy regarding acceptable clothing, canteen, hygiene, and nutritional.
  • All correctional and programs staff were trained on essential psychotherapeutic components including Motivational Interviewing (Ml) and Crisis Intervention (Cl). Staff facilitating groups received additional training in Cognitive Behavioral Intervention (CBI) and other evidence-based programs.

The Solution

  • The RDU is a three-phase transition program designed around the principles of effective intervention and following best-practice guidelines of effective positive reinforcement. This includes the use of cognitive behavior and behavior-specific interventions.
  • Participant eligibility in the RDU is based on rule violations, the individual’s custody level, control assignment, mental health, IQ and reading level, age, and projected release.
  • Participation includes a mandatory curriculum in the initial two phases—however there is flexibility in duration if a participant requires more time to progress. Programming in the third and final phase offers a course selection tailored to the needs and choice of the participant. Options include opportunities to work on academic, career, and personal goals such as achieving a High School Equivalency (HSE) or completing a parenting course such as Father Accountability.
  • While the full program is 13 months in duration, alternative program lengths are available for those with an earlier prison release date.
  • Each phase increases out-of-cell time, pro-social activities, and privileges similar to that of the general population. Progression from one phase to the next is based on assignment completion, participation, and a decrease in negative behaviors. Progress is also reviewed with the participant in a committee hearing that includes input from unit management, the program director, the case manager, and the group.
  • At the completion of the RDU, the individual is transferred to the general population.

The Results

  • Based on written and verbal reports from program facilitators, participants, and research staff, the program is performing well due to several factors. These include technical support during the implementation process, facilitation by an encouraging leadership team, unique and efficient service delivery, minimal disruption to overall prison services, and positive behavioral outcomes for incarcerated individuals.
  • The program has demonstrated promising results on safety measures, such as reduced infractions among participants, compared to participants’ behavior before intervention. Preliminary analysis suggests that participants are less likely to commit violent infractions after program completion, and may exhibit lower levels of entitlement, criminal rationalization, and personal irresponsibility. These attitudinal and psychological findings have been supported using a pre-and post-test score of the TCU Criminal Thinking Scales, as well as comparisons of disciplinary actions due to rule
  • Group sessions, which begin in the second half of Phase I, provide a shared learning experience and encourage participants to support each other’s contributions to the group. Friendships develop with other members of the group due to the intense and in-depth conversations the cohort share with each other on a weekly This psychosocial network encourages phase advancement—as participants who get off course lose the privilege of staying with their initial cohort. However, an unintended consequence can also be an alliance between gangs to plan concentrated efforts of causing security breaches, such as assaults on staff or other incarcerated people.
  • Individuals who participated in the RDU saw their infraction rates—for any rule violations—decline by 99 percent while participating in the program. After those same people returned from RDU to the general population, their infraction rates remained 77.4 percent lower than before their entry to the RDU.
  • As of May 15, 2018, 223 inmates have graduated from the RDU program. Twenty-five of those graduates now reside in the community and are no longer incarcerated. Seventy-five participants were released to the community before program completion, however they were able to complete transition and re-entry programming rather than being release directly from restrictive housing to the


Lessons Learned

Critical factors to remain aware of:

  • The assignment of individuals to the program, who are later determined to be developmentally delayed or have an incorrect mental health acuity assignment, impacts the effectiveness of the overall program performance as it creates a strain on already limited resources.
  • By virtue of the population, there is a substantial amount of gang members. Scheduling movement, housing accommodations and group cohorts must be cautiously planned, and communicated with staff consistently for safety.
  • Treatment officers, case managers, custody staff, and the facility management all work collaboratively as a team to ensure transitions are smooth and to promote safety. They are committed to the success of the RDU initiative.

Facility and unit management staff meet frequently to discuss roles and responsibilities as well as problem solve special cases which may require modifications in scheduling, among other management issues.

This Promising Practices section of the SAS Resource Center was developed as part of a collaborative effort with the Vera Institute of Justice, University of Michigan Law School, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. We are also deeply grateful to the many leaders across the country who created and implemented each of the reforms cited throughout this section for their efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing in prisons and jails across the country.

Please note that Vera and our partners do not specifically endorse the practices and policies included in this section. The Promising Practices section features segregation reforms being implemented in prisons and jails around the country. Our goal is to serve as a resource to other jail and prison systems interested in implementing similar practices and policies by highlighting those jurisdictions that report successful reforms.