Essay, 12 pages (3000 words)

Effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation programs essay

Criminologist and politicians have debated the effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation programs since the 1970’s when criminal justice scholars and policy makers throughout the United States embraced Robert Martinson’s credo of “ nothing works” (Shrum, 2004). Recidivism, the rate at which released offenders return to jail or prison, has become the most accepted outcome measure in corrections. The public’s desire to reduce the economic and social costs associated with crime and incarceration has resulted in an emphasis on recidivism as an outcome measure of program effectiveness.

While correctional facilities continue to grow, corrections make up an increasing amount of state and federal budgets. The recidivism rate in the United States is quite high, while the cost to taxpayers continues to increase. For legislatures, recidivism has become the primary outcome measure. Assessing an offender’s risk to recidivate upon release from prison is one of the most important functions of a correctional organization (Brown et. al, 2009). Manchak et. l (2008) stated that the assessment of an individual’s risk for future criminal behavior is a routine part of practice in prisons and other correctional settings. Everyday correctional administrators must assess risk to inform important decisions about placing, managing, supervising, and treating offenders. This task has become more challenging as the size of the correctional population has burgeoned and the length of sentences has stretched (Manchak et. al, 2008). Additional time serve in prison has little impact on recidivism (Shrum, 2004).

Measuring recidivism requires planning and commitment from correctional administrators. It also requires extensive follow up efforts from administrators, as well as, devoting resources to individual offenders who are no longer being served by a particular correctional facility. There are many factors that contribute to the rate of recidivism, such as poverty, unemployment and drug abuse. A successful study includes some type of comparison or control group. Comparisons must be made between those individual offenders who participate in correctional education and those who do not.

Correctional administrators and scholars routinely attempt to identify the elements common among programs known to be effective in reducing recidivism or affecting inmate behavior (Withrow, 2002). More than a decade of research consistently identifies nine components present in programs that demonstrate reduced recidivism rates: * Treatment is based on behavioral strategies influenced by empirically valid theories of criminal behavior. * Treatment is delivered in the offender’s natural environment. * A variety of intervention strategies are employed to respond to a wide range of offender needs, particularly criminogenic needs. The program is intensive (100 or more hours over a course of three to four months). * The emphasis is on positive reinforcement and pro-social behavior. * There is an attempt to match client needs and learning styles. * Aftercare is provided. * Administrators and faculty are trained, qualified and well supervised. * There is organizational support. Even though a reduction in recidivism is by far the most powerful and desired correctional program outcome, there are other outcome measurements that could be examined in addition to or as an alternative to recidivism.

Other outcome measures could provide explanations as to why correctional education programs might reduce recidivism rates among inmates. Alternative outcome measures include: higher education, behavioral changes, incentives to participants for early release and post-release employment. Another outcome measures are cognitive intervention programs. These programs vary in technique and function but most share the assumption about the central role of cognition in fostering emotional and behavioral problems (Withrow, 2002).

These types of programs are based on the theory of social competence. Proponents of the cognitive perspective argue that offenders have an underdeveloped capacity to think analytically, to consider the effects of their behaviors on others or to limit impulsive behaviors (p. 1). Cognitive research is often labeled in literature as thinking, reasoning, perceiving, problem-solving, critical thinking, conflict resolution, moral reasoning, decision-making, perception and abstraction (p. 2).

Cognitive-based strategies are considered therapeutic rather than educational. Discussion Research on recidivism reveals a variety of different ways to define and measure its effectiveness on the outcome. One instrument widely used in assessing offenders is the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R). The LSI-R was developed with short-term offenders and community supervisees. It assesses largely risk factor for recidivism and is designed to inform parole management decisions (Manchak et al. , 2008).

The 54 items of the LSI-R assess ten “ risk-needs” factors: criminal history, education/employment, financial, family/marital, accommodation, leisure/recreation, peers/companions, alcohol/drug problems, emotional/personal, and attitude/orientation (p. 478). Results indicate that the LSI-R moderately predicts general, but not necessarily violent recidivism (p. 477). The utility of the LSI-R in predicting community recidivism is well established for probationers and minor offenders. There are different measurement dimensions that need to be considered: the precipitating event, the element of time, and the facility.

The precipitating event is the activity that determines whether or not a former inmate is considered a recidivist. The element of time is the length of time between the release from prison and the precipitating event. The longer the period of time between the release and the return dates, the greater the likelihood that former inmates will have recidivated. Some correctional program evaluators use six months as an initial cut-off after release, while others go indefinitely. Lastly, the correctional facility to which the individual offender return needs to be a dimension considered in measuring recidivism.

State level data systems provide easy access to information across facilities and thus eliminate the problems associated with tracking arrest records or convictions that occur in different locations within the state. There are also federal databases that contain useful arrest information. Manchak et al. (2008) examined the utility of the LSI-R in assessing risk of general and violent felony recidivism. The study was conducted based on a sample of 1, 144 inmates released in a state without parole.

The three specific aims of the study were to determine the utility of the LSI-R in predicting general recidivism and violent felony recidivism for Long Term Inmates (LTI), assess whether the LSI-R’s predictive utility is moderate by states as an LTI, and estimate whether the LSI-R has incremental utility in predicting recidivism after accounting for such static variables as criminal history (Manshak et al. 2008). In this study, recidivism was defined, as conviction of a new offense in the state of Washington during the follow-up period after the index prison release (p. 80). Recidivism was coded as to whether the inmates recidivated generally or violently during the entire period they were followed in the community. This study was the first to assess the generalizability of a risk assessment tool to long term inmates who have been incarcerated for ten or more years. This unique group of prisoners had nearly double in size over the past decade (Manshak et al. 2008). The study produced three findings. First, the LSI-R identifies with LTI’s who will recidivate moderately well.

Second, the utility of the LSI-R in predicting recidivism does not depend on an inmate’s incarceration status. Third, the LSI-R captured some dynamic risk factors that helped predict the likelihood of prisoners’ recidivism. The study concluded that correctional systems and parole boards are in need of effective risk assessment and risk management techniques for LTI’s with indeterminate sentences (p. 486). The evaluation of the LSI-R indicates that this tool is useful for predicting general recidivism with LTI’s and includes dynamic subscales that uniquely relate to recidivism.

With local cross-validation, the LSI-R shows promise in informing release decisions about serious offenders that recognized change, protect public safety, and inform supervision strategies to promote successful re-entry (p. 486). The U. S. Sentencing Commission had the opportunity to review data assessing the relationship between recidivism and the criminal history scores (Curtis, 2003). The Commission’s ongoing criminal history-recidivism project was designed to test the accuracy of the criminal history score in predicting recidivism.

The analysis from the data generated from the recidivism study addresses the characteristics that best predict recidivism, the factors that capture the risk of committing violent offenses, the cost effectiveness of non-incarcerative forms of punishment, and the effect of the absolute sentence length of recidivism (p. 185). Three contrasting definitions of recidivism were used in the project analysis: an arrest with no disposition, an arrest with a disposition of guilt and a supervision revocation.

The project analysis examined how pre-sentence factors can predict recidivist behavior: information about the instant offense, prior criminal conduct, guideline computation and offender characteristics (Curtis, 2003). The criminal history-recidivism project used a sample of more than 6, 000 U. S. citizen offenders from guideline cases sentenced in 1992. The preliminary data showed that the percentage of recidivating offenders correlated with their criminal history score. The higher the criminal history score, the higher the rate of recidivism.

Earlier results suggest that the lowest recidivism rates are found among offenders with no prior arrests or convictions. Other results showed that recidivism rates vary by the offense type, with drug and fraud offenders having lower recidivism rates, and robbery and firearms offenders having higher recidivism rates (p. 186). The study panel noted that judges would appreciate access to the recidivism data, which could provide a greater variety of sentencing options to fit each particular offender (p. 188).

A three-wave prospective panel design was used to assess the extent to which static and dynamic risk factors could predict criminal recidivism in a sample of 136 adult male offenders released from Canadian federal prison (Brown et al. , 2009). The definition of recidivism used in this study was conditional release revocation (p. 33). Static factors were defined as criminal history and dynamic factors were defined as substance abuse and criminal attitudes. Static measures were assess once, prior to release, while dynamic measures were assessed on three separate occasions: pre-released, one month, and three months post-release.

The study has several objectives. It determined whether or not the re-assessment of prospectively-rated dynamic risk can improve predictive accuracy over and above the static risk. It also used dynamic risk measures that were derived and sensitive to change. Lastly, it investigated whether or not dynamic factors actually changed over a systematic assessment and re-assessment schedules (p. 26). The study concluded that issues of how best to assess real-world dynamic factors prior to release from a secure environment require additional research.

It also demonstrated that the systematic re-assessment of dynamic risk can enhance predictive accuracy. The most promising prediction models will be those that incorporate static factors, as well as, time dependent dynamic information (p. 43). Michael Jones (2004) associates Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to lowering the rate of recidivism. Jones explained that Maslow’s theory is used to understand how a person chooses to act. The theory is based on the assumption that all people have the desire to maximize their potential and to strive to do what they are capable of doing.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs presumes that after individuals meet the needs in the four lower categories, they begin to meet the needs in a higher fifth category. In the fifth category, people try to meet their need of excelling at something, which can include choosing to act differently (Jones, 2004). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is diagramed using a triangle, with the five different levels inside it, and each level representing its own category of needs. Starting from the bottom, the categories are bodily/physical needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and self actualization needs.

A person must meet bodily/physical needs first, before progressing up the triangle, meeting the needs of each respective category before moving to a higher one. A person will progress systematically up the triangle. The goal of a correctional facility is to help offenders rehabilitate themselves so that they become law-abiding citizens upon their release (Jones, 2004). Jones advises that one way that correctional administrators can do this is by helping offenders meet all their needs in categories one through four.

When offenders have their physical, safety, social and esteem needs met, they are then in a position to meet their self-actualization needs. An offender’s self-actualization needs can include changing from law-breaking to law-abiding individuals (Jones, 2004). Offenders can encounter problems trying to advance to the fifth category. At any point, they could abandon their focus on a higher category need because a lower category need arises for which they must refocus on meeting (p. 4).

Correctional administrators can contribute because they are in a position to help offenders meet the lower the four lower categories of needs so that they can focus on their self actualization needs. Jones (2004) explains that offenders need the opportunity to become law-abiding citizens, and although the primary goal of correctional administrators is security, they can also help and encourage offenders to do this. It is possible that offenders can and will make changes at any time, but Jones (2004) explains that Maslow’s theory suggests that the most natural time for offenders to make changes is after their basic needs have be n met.

If correctional administrators and their staff help offenders meet their basic needs and get them to the self-actualization category, then offenders have a good chance of becoming law-abiding citizens, therefore lowering the risk of recidivism. A training program that teaches decision making skills is reported to help inmates avoid returning to prison (Anonymous, 2005). Thresholds, a non-profit organization in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, has been teaching prisoners decision-making skills for 28 years, released a four-year study indicating that inmates who complete a ix-step course are one-third less likely to return to prison. Thresholds tracked inmates at George W. Hill Correctional Facility who had completed the program and were released between 1997 and 2000. This study found that the rate of recidivism was 42 percent for Threshold participants compared to 62 percent of inmates, a reduction in the number of inmates returning to prison of 33 percent. The program was designed to help inmates learn how to break patterns by thinking situations thoroughly before acting or reacting.

Inmates who participated in the Threshold program met weekly in one-on-one and group sessions with volunteers to learn how to define their situation, set goals, evaluate options for reaching their goals, consider consequences and use techniques to achieve their personal goals. Threshold was developed by Milton “ Mickey” Burglass, who began teaching decision making skills to inmates at a Louisiana prison in the 1960’s (Anonymous, 2005). The program is based on the belief that the image people hold of themselves in relation to society strongly influences their actions.

By learning to solve problems more effectively, people increase their self image, enabling them to become more productive individuals upon returning to their community. Thresholds trains volunteers to work with the inmates using workbooks that help them build decision making skills. The program anticipated graduating 200 inmates per year with the help of 70 trained volunteers. With the annual average cost of incarceration at more than $25, 000 per inmate, it was estimated that Thresholds has saved taxpayers more than five million since its inception (Anonymous, 2005). In 2003, there was an estimated 1. million arrests of juveniles for criminal offenses (Douglas et al. 2008). Many of these offenses were violent in nature. In recent years the juvenile justice system has become increasingly punitive. Ninety-six male adolescent offenders between the ages of 11 and 18, who were remanded to a secure facility located in West Central Florida, were recruited to participate in a study about criminal recidivism among juvenile offenders. The study allowed approximately one year post discharge prior to collecting recidivism data to increase the probability that crimes that were actually committed had to be processed and entered into the data base.

The minimum follow-up time was 310 days, and the maximum was 1, 282 days. Vacca (2004) stated that prisoners who attend education programs while they are incarcerated are less likely to return to prison following their release. Since 1990, literature examining the return rates recidivism, has shown that educated prisoners are less likely to find themselves back in prison a second time if they complete an educational program and are taught skills to successfully read and write. The “ right kind” of education works to both lower recidivism and reduce the level of violence (p. 298).

In 1991, a study generated data that answered the question whether completing a college degree during a period of incarceration reduced the likelihood that participants would return to prison following their release. The study concluded that inmates who earned a diploma returned to prison at a significantly lower rate than those inmates who did not earn a degree. It is believed that recidivism rates drop when the educational programs are designed to help prisoners with their social skills, artistic development and techniques and strategies to help them deal with their emotions (p. 99). Other factors that are essential to the success or failure of prison education programs are prison overcrowding and inadequate funding for teaching personnel, supplies and equipment (Vacca, 2004). Many adult prisoners are school drop outs, and most of the maximum security prisons are populated with males having very few employable skills. The challenge for educators is that many prisoners lack self confidence and have a negative attitude toward school.

One study found that the recidivism rate for those who received both the GED certificate and completed a vocational trade was over 20 percent lower for those who did not reach their milestones (Shrum, 2004). In another study, Shrum (2004) examines correctional practices that effectively reduce recidivism rates and recommends two additional programs, Logotherapy and the Intensive Journal. Both have been proven to be cost effective in the fields of prevention and rehabilitation.

In logotherapy, emphasis is given to the absence in the “ will to meaning. Logotherapy was introduced to inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center about 40 years ago as a short-term project. The program aimed at giving inmates a purpose and direction in life, and also at helping inmates acquire the knowledge needed to pursue a new direction during and after their prison experience. The inmates who participated in the project learned that their experiences as criminals gave them a unique opportunity to help other criminals, thus turning their liabilities into assets society could use (p. 229). The recidivism rate for those inmates that completed the program prior to parole was only 5. percent. But when used as an addictions treatment programs, it was found to be four times as effective as any other program. Conclusion Programs that lower recidivism rates result in less crime, lower cost for incarceration, fewer broken families, less welfare and social services, less prison overcrowding, less prisons being constructed, more funds available for schools and alternatives to incarceration, and ultimately safer communities (Shrum, 2004). Studies have indicated that recidivism rates have declined where inmates have received an appropriate education (Vacca, 2004).

Efforts in this direction would help stimulate better participation of inmates in all prison education programs and will go a long way to help the prisoner with their rehabilitation process, therefore reducing the rates of recidivism. Recidivism and crime rates are readily reducible 16-62 percent and more by broader use of existing rehabilitation programs, such as: substance abuse treatment, academic and vocational education, post-secondary education, intermediate sanctions, and alternatives to incarceration (p. 226). Shrum adds that some programs work so well that the rate of recidivism is as low as five to 15 percent.

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