Given that the strongest predictors for criminal behavior include dynamic factors such as antisocial attitudes, antisocial peers and antisocial personality traits, then the most effective intervention for medium- to high-risk offenders includes cognitive behavioral therapy, which addresses thinking processes, beliefs, values and life skills. Analysis of programs developed for criminal offenders found that these type of programs – and this approach to address criminal thinking upon reintegration into the community – is effective in reducing recidivism.
In the influential “What Works in Corrections: Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents,” Author Doris Layton MacKenzie said: “Based on cognitive behavioral theory, these therapies represent a broad category of interventions that focus on human change through demonstrated behavioral outcomes… achieved through changes in the way an individual perceives, reflects and thinks about their life.”
Cognitive behavioral treatment emphasizes the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. If thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, then it is possible to change the way we behave by changing the way we think. In corrections, cognitive behavioral treatments can help offenders identify and change the antisocial beliefs, thoughts, and values that contribute to their criminal behavior. At GEO Reentry service centers, both non-residential and residential, the focus is on structure, services based on the risks and needs of program participants, and immediate rewards and sanctions to encourage progress forward through a treatment and training curriculum.
Cognitive behavioral strategies combine two very effective kinds of psychotherapy—cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy encourages people to recognize and change faulty or maladaptive thinking patterns. For example, someone having trouble with a math problem may be thinking, “I’m stupid, I can’t do math.” Replacing negative thoughts such as these with thoughts that are more realistic such as “This is hard, I’ll ask for help,” has been found to help people succeed when before they experienced repeated failure. Behavioral therapy focuses on the effect of specific actions and environments on behavior. For instance, people who want to stop smoking may need to change their daily habits. Instead of having their daily coffee upon waking—which may trigger the urge to have a cigarette—they are encouraged to take a morning walk without their cigarettes.
Portions of this article are excerpted from GEO Reentry Services’ “What Works to Reduce Recidivism? An Examination of Research- and Evidence-Based Principles, Practices and Programs.” Learn more here.