How GEO Reentry Programs Use Positive Reinforcement to Change Participant Behavior

How GEO Reentry Programs Use Positive Reinforcement to Change Participant Behavior

Increasing positive reinforcement is one of eight evidence-based principles that GEO Reentry Services programs use to reduce participants’ criminal thinking, change behavior and, ultimately, reduce recidivism.

These evidence-based principles are part of a framework developed over decades of research on What Works to reduce recidivism rates and promote public safety. Adhering to the principle of positive reinforcement, staff at GEO Reentry’s residential, non-residential and in-custody treatment programs are required to apply four positive reinforcements for every one negative reinforcement, as research indicates this ratio is best to long-lasting behavior change.

While some incidents of unacceptable behavior do call for a speedy, serious response, research also shows that, in most cases, providing rewards and recognition are the best way to ensure participant compliance.

This practice also helps reinforce pro-social behavior by applying a reasonable and consistent structure to programming and delineating clear guidelines. This positive, yet regimented approach is more motivational because it reinforces participants’ positive efforts at each step.

At GEO Reentry’s programs for adult probationers, parolees, and pretrial defendants, staff also take every opportunity to involve participants’ communities in reinforcing these new, positive behaviors. This often takes the form of transition ceremonies for participants who have completed the program’s requirements.

Transition ceremonies are huge milestones for participants, following months of attending the program, undergoing alcohol and drug treatment, finding employment or entering a vocational program. In fact, these ceremonies have proven so essential for maintaining behavior change that some centers even continued holding them during the pandemic, over video conference.

These events typically invite local government and law enforcement officials, local probation or parole officers, GEO Reentry center staff, participants’ families and program alumni; there is often a keynote speaker. The purpose is for participants to receive positive reinforcement as others congratulate them for their hard work and encourage them to continue moving toward their goals.

Several GEO Reentry centers hosted transition ceremonies recently, including the Napa County Community Corrections Services Center in Napa, Calif., the Shasta County Day Reporting Center in Redding, Calif., and the Shreveport Day Reporting Center in Shreveport, La., where graduates heard from keynote speaker and program graduate Brandon Riddle.

In Shasta, Mayor Baron Browning of nearby Anderson, Calif. served as keynote speaker, a powerful message to the graduates that their effort mattered and he welcomed them to be contributors to the strength of the local community.

At the Napa event, the keynote speaker proved to be a highlight, according to Program Manager Karen Graff. In a powerful speech, Mario Flores, a 2018 program graduate, described growing up in and out of custody and struggling with drugs and crime, before being referred to the program and finding a better path.

To cheers from the audience, Mr. Flores shared he had just completed vocational school and was now a certified electrician. For that day’s GEO Reentry graduates, the happy moment served as one more example of positive reinforcement in action, and how events like these can change behavior and change lives.