Posts Tagged ‘rehabilitation’

As it turns out, lack of gainful employment is among one of the most significant factors in predicting recidivism. To some that might sound like a cop out, but it’s a reality borne out by research (PDF).  Correlations between employment and recidivism aren’t exact, of course, but the influence of unemployment on the risk to reoffend can clearly be seen in the literature.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

As it also turns out, one of the long-standing collateral consequences of conviction and imprisonment is the impact on future employability. For people with a conviction on their record – especially a felony – the chances of getting a living-wage job are significantly reduced.

This creates a vicious cycle in which a lack of employment contributes to criminality, but the availability of jobs is limited for those with a prior conviction.

How can we break out of this and change the dynamic so that once someone has paid their social debt, and has demonstrated that they’ve been rehabilitated, they’re welcomed back into the mainstream of society and allowed to work toward prosocial goals?

One way is for employers to stop immediately disqualifying applicants with criminal records.

Ban the Box is an organization that’s striving to promote that very idea through their Take the Fair Chance Pledge campaign. According to their web site:

The campaign challenges the stereotypes of people with conviction histories by asking employers to choose their best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, not past convictions. Since 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history, the impact of this discrimination is widespread and affects other aspects of life in addition to employment opportunity.

The idea is a simple one: Remove the check box from employment applications that requires applicants to disclose their criminal history up front, and instead allow them an opportunity to explain their past behavior in a face-to-face interview.

Although this has already become law for many public organizations and agencies, it wasn’t until recently that private companies were required to ban the box. Beginning next year, though, Target Corporation will be one of the major employers to stop asking crime questions as part of the initial application process.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

I personally think this is a fantastic idea. If we’re serious as a society about reducing risk factors that contribute to crime, we need to give ex-offenders the opportunity to return to society as fully contributing, employed citizens.

The alternative is to punish law breakers in perpetuity, which ultimately serves no one, and may in fact make problems worse.

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Recently, on Quora, I responded to a question about whether there were any interventions actually proven through research to help offenders change their behavior for the better. Not only is the answer to that question a resounding yes, but there are a number of approaches that are very effective in that regard. One primary group of interventions along those lines is Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, or CBT, as they’re often called.

In a correctional context, the various forms of CBT generally  involve changing the dysfunctional thought patterns that contribute to criminal behaviors by applying a structured intervention process, often in a group environment. CBT has been shown repeatedly to be effective in a wide variety of settings and with nearly all categories of offenders, including those at high risk to reoffend.

In one article published by the National Institute of Justice in 2010, Preventing Future Crime With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the authors wrote that:

programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy are effective with juvenile and adult criminal offenders in various criminal justice settings, including prison, residential, community probation and parole. [The authors] examined research studies published from 1965 through 2005 and found 58 that could be included in their review and analysis. The researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy significantly reduced recidivism even among high-risk offenders.

In a separate study published by the National Institute of Corrections in 2007, Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment: A Review and Discussion for Corrections Professionals, the authors reached similar conclusions. Specifically regarding CBT’s affects on recidivism, they wrote that:

A meta-analysis of 69 studies covering both behavioral and cognitivebehavioral programs determined that the cognitive-behavioral programs were more effective in reducing recidivism than the behavioral programs (Pearson et al., 2002). The mean reduction in recidivism was about 30 percent for treated offenders. Other meta-analyses of correctional treatment concluded that cognitive-behavioral methods are critical aspects of effective correctional treatment (Andrews et al., 1990; Losel, 1995). Yet another study similarly determined that the most effective interventions are those that use cognitivebehavioral techniques to improve cognitive functioning (Gendreau and Andrews, 1990).

So, I would say there is significant scientific evidence that CBT provides positive therapeutic effects, including reductions in recidivism.  Like any intervention, it is not appropriate for every offender or every situation, but it is still one of the most flexible and effective groupings of rehabilitative interventions available.

What are your thoughts about CBT?


Sound absurd? I had the same reaction after reading a summary of Timothy Leary’s study (yes, that Timothy Leary) from the 1960s that appeared to show decreased recidivism among inmates who were subjected to psilocybin therapy. The study, which was an outgrowth of the larger Harvard Psilocybin Project (PDF), was later found to be fatally flawed, but the author of the follow-up study, Rick Doblin, also concluded the following:

Whether a new program of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy and post-release programs would significantly reduce recidivism rates is an empirical question that deserves to be addressed within the context of a new experiment.

While this might all sound outlandish, Wired magazine recently published an article about the renewed interest in researching psychedelic drugs, including LSD, as a way to treat substance abuse, depression, and even existential fear related to a cancer diagnosis. The Wired article doesn’t discuss rehabilitative efforts aimed specifically at offenders , but there are legitimate clinical trials currently underway examining psilocybin as a treatment for alcohol dependence.

Substance abuse is one well known contributor to criminal behavior, so the relevance of the above trial to correctional intervention seems to exist at least.

Further, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is attempting to bring some legitimacy to what has been a taboo field of research for many years, especially in the U.S.  At this point, it appears research on psychedelics does have a PR problem of immense proportions, which leads to this week’s Monday poll question.

Vote and see the results for yourself!