News Releases

Alcohol and Drug Counselor Program Graduates First Class at Valley State Prison for Women

Inaugural graduating class from the Offender Mentor Certification Program will help fellow inmates recover and turn their lives around.
CHOWCHILLA – The first class of female lifer and other long-term inmates completing rigorous study to become certified alcohol and drug counselors graduated today in a ceremony at Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) in Chowchilla attended by family and community members.  Graduates from the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) who attain certification will provide substance abuse counseling services for women incarcerated in California.
“These graduates are the pioneers of a new peer counselor program to bring the message of recovery to women in California’s prisons,” said Matthew Cate, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  “These women will strengthen our rehabilitation efforts and save taxpayers by utilizing the energy and skills of trained inmates to help each other.”
“With this innovative concept in correctional rehabilitation, we are giving these offenders a role which only they can fulfill – to share their experience of recovery with other women in order to help reduce victimization and recidivism,” said Elizabeth Siggins, CDCR Chief Deputy Secretary for Adult Programs. 
The graduating mentors worked hard during the past nine months to complete their training. In order to qualify for the certification program, they first had to participate in the 90-day Trauma Informed Substance Abuse Treatment Program (TI-SAT), CDCR’s gender-responsive substance abuse program directed to the meet the special challenges and needs of women, administered by Walden House.  After completing TI-SAT, the mentors took 10 weeks of intense training with instructors from the U.S. Navy Drug and Alcohol Counselor School in San Diego; the University of California San Diego, Center for Criminality & Addiction Research, Training & Application; and Options Recovery Services in Berkeley.  The mentors then finished 255 practicum hours, during which inmates worked side-by-side with professional counselors from Walden House in a group setting. 
“This impressive achievement is a tribute to the motivation and hard work of these women and their instructors,” said VSPW Warden Walter Miller. “Our institution is proud to be a part of this historic new program of utilizing mentors who have community credibility to help their fellow inmates begin a new life.” 
On Dec. 3, the 15 graduates took the international exam administered by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium, coordinated by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC), competing with men and women around the country working toward certification to become substance abuse counselors.  They are expected to receive their results toward the end of January.  Once they pass the exam, mentors must complete a 4,000-hour internship and pass an oral exam in order to obtain certification.  Some of the graduates will be transferred to Central California Women’s Facility, also in Chowchilla, and to the California Institution for Women in Corona and work on their certification in substance abuse treatment programs at those facilities.
Attaining certification as drug and alcohol counselors will also assist the graduates to obtain employment upon release. 
California launched its first program to train inmates as certified drug and alcohol counselors in 2005 at San Quentin State Prison.  The program was expanded to California State Prison, Solano in 2008.  California is the first state in the nation to train inmates as certified alcohol and drug counselors to provide services for other inmates.

Click here to view photographs of the graduation ceremony, .

Contact: Peggy Bengs (916) 445-4950 
Gregory Bergersen, VSPW (559) 665-6100 x 5509