To some, prison can seem like a dead end. But one program is turning criminals into upstanding citizens right here in Shakopee.

Trisha Redmann, 33, has had multiple felony charges for drug and theft offenses over the past 10 years. After her most recent sentence landed her in prison, she realized she needed a major change.

“I want to be able to get home to my son and be something for him,” Redmann said.

Earlier this year, Redmann was accepted to the Challenge Incarceration Program, an elite, rigorous rehabilitation program for nonviolent offenders in Minnesota. Even after a few weeks into the 18-month program, Redmann said it was already having a huge impact on her life.

“There’s structure and accountability, and then the physical activity really motivates you,” Redmann said. “This program is helping us find the person we used to be.”

Minnesota’s Department of Corrections has been running the boot camp-style Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) for nonviolent offenders since 1992. Since then, CIP has morphed into a program that encourages participants to not only improve their bodies, but also their minds and habits. In July, the women’s program moved from its northern Minnesota facility in Togo to the women’s correctional facility in Shakopee.

Like any transition, moving the program came with its share of kinks. But as CIP begins to put roots down in Shakopee, officials with the Department of Corrections are excited about the positive impact the move will have on the program’s participants.

The program

The CIP is unlike any other option for prisoners.

Boot camp programs for inmates became a popular trend in the United States during the late 1980s in an effort to reduce recidivism, or a return to crime after release. But a June 2003 report from the National Institute of Justice showed that the restrictive atmosphere of a boot camp, without any additional programming such as career counseling, therapy and visitation, was not an effective way to reform inmates.

Minnesota’s boot camp program took a different “third generation,” approach, said women’s CIP program manager Kevin Fors.

“It’s a boot camp plus therapy, plus education, plus aftercare,” Fors said. “It’s way more than just push-ups.”

The boot camp atmosphere is still pervasive. Inmates participating in CIP wear crisp khaki uniforms, stand at attention, are subject to inspections of living quarters and have intense physical training. But, in addition, there are also scheduled hours for group therapy sessions, reading, career counseling and more.

“The key for [the inmates] is routine and taking ownership of what they do. Even something as simple as making their beds the right way, at the end of the day they can feel a sense of pride and say ‘I did that,’” Fors said.

Nonviolent offenders can apply to participate in CIP if they have 15 to 48 months left on their sentence. Participation in the program can reduce an inmate’s sentence up to 18 months. The first six months of CIP make up the boot-camp phase at the correctional facility. At the Shakopee facility, four squads participate in boot camp at a time. There are three levels within boot camp that squads can achieve. The levels are marked by colored hats that the inmates wear, with red being the lowest level, brown being the middle and blue being the highest.

“So if folks see women in khaki with colored hats and marching cadence on campus, they’re part of this great program,” Fors said.

The last 12 months of CIP involve supervised release into the community. The conditions of release are strict. If any CIP participant violates the law while part of the program, or graduates from the program and eventually returns to prison, they cannot reapply or return to CIP.

“If you do it [CIP] wrong, you can actually end up extending your sentence,” Fors said.

As of July, 38 women were in the boot camp phase of CIP at the Shakopee facility. In the future, up to 48 participants could be housed in Shakopee.

“Down the road we can look at expansion,” Fors said. “Right now we’re just getting the ball rolling.”

The move

In November 2013, the Shakopee correctional facility was notified by the state that the women’s CIP units would be moving south from Togo to Shakopee. The state corrections department wanted to expand the men’s program in Togo, which left no room for the women’s program in that space. Shakopee prison Warden Tracy Beltz and her staff had eight months to prepare and plan for a program originally designed to be held in the great north woods and transfer that to the southwest metro.

“We really had to think about, how do we take this great program and maintain its integrity and transfer it from a wilderness setting into a neighborhood?” Fors said.

About 20 new employees were hired to help the transition and work on the new Shakopee-based program. In addition, an entire prison living-unit was converted on the Shakopee correctional campus solely for use by CIP. CIP inmates are kept completely separate from the rest of the prison population, and even have their own cafeteria cut off from the main one.

“The idea is to keep them away from distractions. They have to stay focused,” Beltz said.

While Togo offered hard lessons like outdoorsmanship and hiking endurance to the women’s CIP program, the suburbs have their own advantages.

From a programming perspective, Fors said the metro area offers a wider ranger of outside services to help CIP participants. For example, it’s easier to schedule a motivational speaker or set up community service and restorative justice work with a local nonprofit when CIP is stationed in a more populated area.

“Also, the visiting aspect is huge,” Fors said. For most of the inmates in CIP, Shakopee is significantly closer to their families than Togo. Fors said many of the inmates in CIP are mothers. Seeing their children while in the boot camp program can be a big motivation to the inmates, he said.

Motivation is key to keeping the women on track and away from crime.

The effect

On paper, CIP has proven to reduce recidivism for offenders who participate in the program.

In a correctional department study from 1996, 46 percent of 1,555 offenders were convicted of a felony following release compared to 32 percent of the 1,347 CIP offenders. The felony reconviction rate for Phase I dropouts, 38 percent, was higher than that for Phase I completers, 31 percent.

But for the people who participate in CIP, the effect is much more than just a series of numbers.

John Schadl, director of communications for the correctional department, said what he enjoys the most when visiting CIP participants is seeing the sense of hope in the inmates’ eyes.

Barbara Grau, 45, originally applied to CIP to cut time off her sentence. However, as she continued through the program she said she “realized how messed up life had gotten.

“Everything in the program, everything from the breathing exercises to the physical activity to the routine, it’s really amazing. Kevin Fors and the staff, they really care about us. I’m in this 100 percent, by the heart.”

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