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Local company offers diversion program for low-risk offenders

John Seelmeyer
Northern Nevada Business Weekly

About 1 million people, most of them in some sort of deep trouble, will spend time this year with materials developed by The Change Companies of Carson City.

A newly created sister organization to The Change Companies now seeks to widen to its focus to include misdemeanor offenders as well as some nonviolent felony offenders.

ReThink Now, the new company, marks more than an effort to open new markets. Instead, it reflects a different way of doing business, says Don Kuhl, chief executive officer of The Change Companies.

The Change Companies, launched more than two decades ago, was built around a process it’s trademarked as “Interactive Journaling” in which offenders use journals to learn to take responsibility for their own actions.

Counselors and therapists at 4,500 organizations nationwide – the largest is the U.S. Bureau of Prisons – use materials developed by The Change Companies as they work to change the behavior of inmates, participants in addition-treatment programs and the like.

ReThink Now, by contrast, delivers services itself through small classes taught by its own cadre of leaders.

And unlike The Change Companies, which serves markets around the nation from a single location near the Carson City Airport, ReThink Now will grow as it develops a franchise-like operation to serve individual markets across the United States.

“It’s important that there is an owner who is a local who can meet with the local judges,” says Greg Haupert, president of ReThink Now.

For now, Haupert is focused on convincing judges in Northern Nevada to give ReThink Now a try.

Often, he says, judges and prosecutors are troubled that they don’t have good options to get low-risk offenders pointed in a new direction.

The ReThink Now program offers programs in alcohol and drug awareness, theft intervention, anger management and responsible driving. It’s targeted to offenders such as shoplifters, folks who provide alcohol to a minor, people arrested in a domestic disturbance or drivers who don’t have insurance.

A key sales point for courts that are financially pressed, Haupert says, is this: The offender pays the entire $125 fee for the one-day ReThink Now class, which typically is scheduled for eight hours on a Saturday.

ReThink Now collects the fee, handles the registration and sends court administrators the documentation to show that an offender finished the course.

But the most important sales point will be the effectiveness of the program, says Frankie Lemus, vice president of clinical development for The Change Companies.

He says numerous researchers have found the basic strategy – get people to recognize that they can change and give them tools to take responsibility for their lives – to be effective among serious offenders. Now the company is building that same sort of evidence to support the early intervention classes offered by ReThink Now.

Even so, Kuhl acknowledges that winning the approval of judges and court administrators can be a slow process.

“We need to sell them on the process, rather than a product,” he says. “Process sales are five times as hard as product sales.”

But Haupert expects ReThink Now will be sufficiently well-established in its home turf of Northern Nevada to begin developing a nationwide network of affiliated companies by the second quarter of 2011.

At the same time, he says the three-person staff of ReThink Now – they’re supported by 35 at The Change Companies – is looking to widen program offerings, perhaps including classes for juvenile offenders.