After a year in Mississippi as Mental Health Director for Mississippi Department of
Corrections, Dr. Susan Tucker, innovative program designer, has returned to Louisiana to serve as Chief Operating Officer at Whole Health Treatment Center in Shreveport.
Dr. Tucker has been at the forefront of innovations for Louisiana for over two decades decades. She has earned state and national recognition for these achievements, including from the Vera Institute of Justice. She was also commended by Louisiana legislators for her work and the related cost savings of $15 million by earned “good time credits” through participation in the psychological programs designed by Tucker.
“I am so happy to announce I am the COO for Whole Health Treatment Center in Shreveport, Louisiana,” said Dr. Tucker. “It is a part of Intensive Specialty Hospital. I am so thrilled about this IOP/OP program for offering offenders re-entering the community, substance use disorders, and dual diagnosis, and alternatives to prison programs.”
North Louisiana Whole Health Treatment Center is committed to holistic care brings together an experienced multidisciplinary team to offer the most innovative and impactful treatment options possible.
Dr. Susan Tucker was the Assistant Warden at Forcht Wade Correctional Center-Clinical Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Keithville, Louisiana, near Shreveport. She also served as clinical psychologist and the Assistant Warden at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility.
She and her team used innovative approaches, modern communication technology, community coordination, and a keen awareness for doing what works, to improve lives, families, and
Having worked in Mississippi this past year, Dr. Tucker said, “I am extremely proud of Louisiana as I see them as successfully being on cutting edge of prison reform.”
In late 2022, the Governor’s office pointed to a Pew news report highlighting the positive impacts of criminal justice reforms have had on Louisiana. Reporting for PEW, Michelle Russell wrote, “The state’s prison population has fallen 24%, driven entirely by a decline in people convicted of nonviolent offenses. Louisiana’s reforms sought to steer people convicted of less serious crimes away from prison and shorten the time incarcerated for those who could be safely supervised in the community. In the summer of 2017, before the new laws took effect, there were about 35,500 people under the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ jurisdiction held in prisons or local jails throughout the state. By the summer of 2022, that number had fallen nearly a quarter to about 27,000.”
Dr. Tucker has focused on treatment and research innovations that reduce recidivism. Her work is based in the fact that most inmates have a substance abuse problem, and few get the right kind of treatment. Due to her continuous efforts to work with inmates and provide services, and overall reforms, Louisiana no longer holds the title as “Incarceration Capital of Nation.”
The Times asked Dr. Tucker to tell us what her thoughts about the improvements.
“So, to a large degree,” Dr. Tucker said, “I believe the Louisiana Justice Reform Package is a broad move in the right direction. The legislation is reducing prison populations in the state and developing community partnerships to reduce recidivism. It is a logical and effective way to address an all-time high incarceration rate that was costly and offered little benefit. This bi-partisan reform package has seen a reduction in property and violent crimes. The reform of sentencing laws was long overdue for 1st or 2nd time drug offenses with no violent or sex crimes. This allowed shorter sentences and early release of thousands of offenders,” she said.
“The pandemic offered some additional challenges which slowed, if not impeded some of the progress of this reform movement,” Dr. Tucker explained. “With the decrease in community Mental Health centers and outpatient substance abuse treatment subsequently in our communities due to the pandemic, community resources were limited and sometimes void.
Probation and Parole offices had an increase in their caseloads of early releases and increase in probation cases as opposed to Innovator and Program Designer, Dr. Susan Tucker, incarceration. With the pandemic, the supervision of the probation and parole cases and the lack of community resources created a lag in our initial goal of justice reform,” Dr. Tucker explained.
“However,” she said, “the legislation for reform is in place, new P/P officers are being hired to manage new community supervision cases and resources have increased in the communities. If, in fact, the pandemic has helped our goal, it is the increase in telehealth. We are now able to reach those offenders in rural areas and those low-income communities that often did not receive services.”
“As so many agencies struggled through the pandemic, “Dr. Tucker said, “so did Louisiana Department of Corrections. We are now seeing a ‘return to our new normal’. We have ‘regrouped’ and are headed in the right direction again.”
How does this relate to the programs that she initiated and promoted in Louisiana?
“As you might guess, it’s hard to just walk away from the rehabilitation program I developed and ran for 23 years in LADOC. Rather than simply ‘warehousing offenders’ who will eventually be released into our communities,” Dr. Tucker said. “We are focusing on offering intensive treatment, skill development, and educational opportunities, as well as post release support and care.”
Dr. Tucker explained, “The philosophical approach to our treatment includes focusing on the thinking patterns, emotional reactions, and behavioral events that often lead to self-defeating patterns and eventually to criminal activity. We utilize psychological assessment instruments to illuminate areas of concern, including low cognitive ability, personality disorders or features, mood disorders, and thought disorders. We individualize a treatment program for that offender, and he works closely with his assigned counselor to meet the goals that treatment plan.”
Dr. Tucker said she is thrilled to be part of the reform here in Louisiana, as the COO for Whole Health Treatment Center in Shreveport, part of Intensive Specialty Hospital system. “The continuum of care is as ‘whole’ as it can get,” she said. “We can take a homeless person, male or female, directly off the street and treat them medically, physically, mentally, substance use, detox, and we can get them on Medicaid, Disability, or in Vocational Training through LRS.”
“We also provide transportation and housing! We treat substance use disorders with CBT, Risk Management, and Medication Assisted Treatment. This hospital has spared no expense in allowing us to develop a full continuum of care in a beautiful setting with professional counselors and an effective administrator,” Dr. Tucker said.
“The Clinical Director is Karen Baird, a well-established clinician and administrator. We are lucky to have such a dedicated and knowledgeable director. The entire group is enthusiastic, creative, and on the cutting edge of effective treatment. I am proud to be affiliated with such a treatment-oriented agency.”
What are her current major goals and programs?
“My goal for the rest of my public service life will focus on pre-trial alternative programs and re-entry programs exactly like what Whole Health Treatment center is doing,” she said. “It is imperative to continue to help the justice reform movement of removing the punitive aspect of incarceration and offer solutions for change in the pursuit of justice.
“There is a need for the implementation of fitness for duty assessments for correctional officers and police officers. To ensure the capability of new hires is reflective of a solid officer with the ability to stay calm and manage a difficult situation successfully with the least amount of force,” Dr. Tucker said.
“In addition, reaching mentally ill and substance users in rural areas is an important piece of this where minimal to no treatment access is available,” she said. “Obviously, more resources are needed in our schools for training on mental health, violence, and substance use disorders. The increase in the Seriously Mental Ill in prisons and jails is a direct reflection of our lack of community access to appropriate care.”
From her perspective, in terms of public health, what are the most important things that psychologists should be aware?
“Much work is needed from psychologists regarding how the mentally ill are managed with regard to the criminal justice system. We need more training of police/correctional staff about how to engage with mentally ill on the streets or while in custody.”
In 2015, Harvard honored Dr. Tucker’s Work the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University named Dr. Tucker and her treatment programs as one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Bright Ideas awards for innovation. In the article, Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in
American Government Program at the Ash Center said, “The Bright Ideas program demonstrates that often seemingly intractable problems can be creatively and capably tackled by small groups of dedicated, civic-minded individuals.”
Dr. Tucker’s programs have earned state and national recognition for results. The group received The Residential Substance Abuse Treatment grant for eight years. In 2010 they
were awarded the governor’s grant for prevention. Also, in 2010 the Vera Institute of Justice, an organization dedicated to improving justice systems through research and innovation, noted that Forcht Wade Correctional Center’s family program, should be a model for the nation.