Stakeholders’ perceptions of evidence-based re-entry practices and programs
Evidence-based practices are practices that have been shown by different studies and research to result in desirable outcomes repeatedly, therefore, necessitating their implementation. The application of evidence-based practices evolved from the medical research and had progressively spilled over to social sciences due to its effectiveness in coming up with suitable practices. It’s value in the correctional system cannot be overemphasized especially for mentally disturbed as evidenced by a study done my Maryann Davis two years ago (Davis, 2015.) Studies produce objective information, but the implementers or other stakeholders have subjective opinions about this practice (Welsh, 2015.) Subjective opinions and perceptions have been known to greatly impact the implementation of practices even when the practices are objectively proven to be advantageous.
The corrections community, to adopt the data-centric practices in other fields, has also gradually been introducing evidence-based practices to make re-entry more useful to the community, the corrections system, and the released individuals. A study by the department of justice on the NCBI website actually attributes the drop in crime over the last decade to the use of evidence-based practices in the corrections system (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK195916.) This chapter will focus on these practices, how they have been implemented and their perceptions of the stakeholders. The internal stakeholders in the corrections system, other than the offenders, are the courts, law enforcement officials, the correctional facility officials and lawyers while the external stakeholders are largely the members of the community where the released individuals strive to re-enter and integrate successfully with.
The criminal justice system and the correctional community in concert have implemented many practices that have sparked a heated debate by the stakeholders on their effectiveness. There exist re-entry strategies for released individuals, individuals on probation, supervised released individuals and those still under pre-trial services such as those released on bail. A study by Prendergast showed that although programs that are done within the precincts of the correctional facilities contribute significantly to behavioural change, their effectiveness is limited because the offenders leave these programs when they are released and are therefore prone to slip back into the circumstances that got them incarcerated (Prendergast, 2009.) Interventions would therefore be more effective if they were structured in continuity so that offenders do not leave programs or are enrolled into follow up or alternative programs once they begin the re-entry process. The chapter will revolve around the eight evidence-based principles that reduce risks for the individuals.
The eight evidence-based re-entry principles
The New York Department of probation outlines the eight principles of entry that are evidenced-based on their website (http://www.nyc.gov/html/prob/html/about/evidence.shtml.) Although the eight principles are usually ordered sequentially from the first to their eighth, there is no temporal relationship in their application. Instead, their implementation in synergistic and they are applied to supplement each other to make the process as effective as practically possible.
Assessing actuarial risk or needs
The purpose of this principle is to assess the criminogenic preponderance of an alleged offender. It employs various tools that are used by correctional officers to predict the ability of the offender to repeat the offense that he/she was convicted for or other crimes. A study by Taxman gives a brief history of how the tools of assessment have evolved since the early 20th century. It highlights how teams of researchers outlined characteristics that were later defined as risk factors. These included records of arrest or engagement in behaviour that was deemed to be suggestive of troublesome character such as frequent brawls with slight or no apparent provocation (Taxman, 2006.)
After collecting data using the tools currently in use, the information system of active offenders in the program being screened and triaged is developed. This system is maintained by the correctional system so that the record of the same is not lost. This information system is built in two ways, formal and informal (Grove, 1996.)
The formal method of assessing the risk, criminogenic, and needs of a particular offender is captured by tools administered by employees of the correctional system including correctional officers who are often in close contact with the offenders as they serve their sentences. The employees are educated and trained on how to carry out the formal assessment effectively, and they are taught the importance of the exercise so that they carry it out with the seriousness it deserves. They formally document the individual scores and information acquired from the offenders.
The informal method of risk assessment involves the interaction of the offenders and correctional officers informally without taking notes or capturing data on predetermined tools. This method is subjective and prone to bias but is still effective as a correctional officer can often accurately presume the nature of an offender and whether he is reformed or prone to committing a crime again once he is released from the holding correctional facility.
The holes that have been poked on the effectiveness of this first principle touch on its integrity. Being that it is mostly carried out by correctional officers with minimal skilled training and prone to bias, it is not perceived to be very effective. It also lacks checks and balances and tools of quality assurance so its effectiveness varies from state to state and facility to facility.
Enhancement of intrinsic motivation
There is an old but true saying that claims to err is human. Offenders are just as human as the rest of us and deserve to be treated in a humane manner even when they are serving time for the offense committed. It has been shown by evidence that offenders who are treated in a humane manner tend to realize the error of their ways and begin to alter their behaviour and views from within and this eventually manifests as reformation unless a mental handicap or other psychological factors intervene. This principle has been largely used with drug offenders with good success rates as shown in a study published on the NCBI website (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64966/)
Correctional officers and other employees of the correctional system including members of the parole boards are encouraged to treat the offenders with respect and decorum. This kind of treatment motivates the offenders to also respond to this treatment in a humane manner leading to mutually meaningful interaction between the correctional systems in general and those who need to be corrected. The language and treatment they receive is language and treatment that they have earned.
Offenders who require counselling and other forms of psychological support and treatment are afforded this promptly. It also includes other methods of motivation pioneered by the branch of behavioural science that focuses on rewards for good deeds done.
Motivational intervening is a cornerstone of this principle and has four different aspects to it that when used together are effective in promoting behavioural change. The first one is an expression of sympathy for the offender’s situation, which involves the officer listening to the offender and giving their measured view on the same. The second involves developing a deep discrepancy and conflict within the offender about the situation and making them see that their actions would not have resulted in their situation if they were meant to do good. The third aspect is about letting them know that their inability to want to change is a natural occurrence that changes with time while the last aspect emphasizes the need of the offender to own their decisions whether good or bad.
This principle of motivation is effective although it heavily relies on the integrity of the correctional officers. They may not necessarily want to interact with offenders in a proper humane manner due to the nature of their working relationship and can therefore not follow-up uniformly. Different facilities also carry different rules of reward and punishment and this principle, therefore, lacks standardization. The lack of standardization does not, however, take away the value of this principle.
Within this principle are five principles that are applied harmoniously (McGuire, 2008.)
- Risk principle: It borrows from the triaging done in hospitals where the most critical patients are afforded the most care and resources. This principle employs giving the highest risk offenders the most resources and attention to getting them to reform as they would pose the biggest threat to communities. Recidivism has been shown to be highest in the more ‘hard-core’ offenders and therefore getting them to change by allocating them more resources becomes more profitable as the recidivism rates come down. In the U.S juvenile delinquency and recidivism rates of young offenders is high and risk assessment has been employed successfully. It is showing positive results as expounded in a study by Christina Campbell (Campbell, 2014.)
- Criminogenic needs: Every offender has a need that drives them to crime. This principle focuses on fining that need and addressing it so that the offender is not drawn to crime by the same thing repeatedly. An example would be an offender who is addicted to Cocaine and has to constantly steal money or other valuable things to be able to fund his addiction. The correctional system focuses on rehabilitating the offender so that the need for Cocaine that drives them to crime is reduced. It is very effective.
- Responsivity: In line with the second principle of treating offenders as you treat any decent human being, the responsivity principle focuses on assigning the offenders duties within the correctional facility that are best suited for them depending on their age, culture, gender or any other reasonable measure that would be employed in the society. This provides the offender with a job where they can be effective and therefore makes them feel productive. In behavioural science, productivity is associated with better outcomes for individuals.
- The principle of dosage: If released without a job, the offenders tend to have a lot of free time before they can find their footing. They are therefore prone to engage in behaviour that would land them back in prison. This principle assigns the highest risk offenders the most engaging jobs to keep them occupied as they have the highest recidivism rates and tapers down to the lowest risk offenders.
- The intensity of treatment principle: As with criminogenic needs, there is a need for treatment so that to enhance response. (Taxman, 2006.)
Skill train with directed practice
Vocational training to impart new skills to the offenders has been proved to be more effective than theoretical learning with books to induce change. Psychologists and behavioural scientists postulate that independence brought about by new skills is are very integral to the process of change. They provide the offender with much-needed stimulation and drive that directs them to use their energy for other beneficial purposes rather than commit a crime.
The skills taught to the offender should be skills that match their behavioural traits and their likes so that they are skills that are easy to learn and can be retained for a longer period even if the offender will not begin putting the skills to practice immediately (Viera, 2009.)
The skills are not taught in isolation but are given in a package that also equips them with the necessary soft skills of communication that they will require. Coupled with the techniques learned, improved ability to communicate and express themselves offers a much better chance for them to re-enter the community smoothly.
Application of positive reinforcement
It is the intrinsic nature of human beings to perform and respond better when they are provided with the necessary psyche that comes with positive reinforcement. It is an aspect of operant conditioning and offenders are positively reinforced through rewards that do not necessarily have to be of great value to them. It has been shown evidentially that the criminal justice and reforms system can benefit heavily by rewarding well-behaved and well-mannered offenders who are looking to make better people of themselves. This principle has been of particular help to drug addicts and drug offenders with very positive results (Burdon et, al. 2011)
This should, however, is not to mean that poor or errant behavior should not require individualized. The goal of this principle is not to pamper and reward ill-mannered characters by letting them get away with unacceptable tendencies. It should not be misconstrued that the principle takes away any punishment from wrongdoers for crimes committed; it intends to reshape their behaviour and deter them from doing it again. In a study by Burdon et al., he comprehensively expounds how evident it is in prison settings for bad behaviour to be punished by solitary confinement or other measures that withdraw the wrongdoer from normal activities by isolating him. This isolation is meant to induce change by providing time for self-reflection and regret. What is not evident in the same prison setting is the reward that comes to well-behaved offenders when they engage in prosocial activities. Drug addicts who engage in behaviour that is supportive of their recovery are meant to be positively reinforced so that they do not slide back into addiction (Burdon et, al. 2015)
Engaging ongoing support in natural communities
This principle employs an approach of community reinforcement. Offenders are intermixed in support groups within the community that is well established to help them integrate and cope with the challenges that face with other people facing similar challenges in the community. For example, if the offender is an alcoholic or drug user who is struggling with the urge of slipping back into old habits, they will join a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous where the rest of the folks in the community who are also alcoholics attend. Within the group, they will form new relationships and can, therefore, learn how to cope and navigate. They can also learn more than just what is directly associated with their addiction as the members of the community here can teach them other things. The groups are not just limited to drug-related social support but other social issues that require the same kind of intervention.
This has been used as behavioural change therapy successfully for psychiatry patients, and evidence has shown that it is also effective for previous offenders who have decided to reform and begin new lives altogether. It has also been used with good success in rehabilitation violent youth as evidenced by a study by Morrel Samuel et, al. (Morrel Samuel et, al 2016.)
Measuring the relevant processes and practices
All the principles that we have expounded on earlier sought to add value in one way or another to the offender to make them a more acceptable and more productive member of the society. Every principle imparted certain strength to either the offender or offered them a means to access support. This principle is geared towards that all the previous principles discussed herein are made use of effectively. It involves checking and accurately determining the whether the processes and practices established in the previous principles are producing the desired outcomes that they were designed to.
It requires then detailed follow up of individualized cases and proper documentation of all the skills and material that the offender received in preparation for re-entry and during re-entry to ensure that they are being utilized properly and are of good use to the offender.
The outcomes are measured using different parameters such rates of recidivism and the efficiency of offenders in their new workstations to know where the practices should be adjusted for better outcomes. This requires proper follow-up and performance indices and appraisals for well-doing offenders and could also include the enrolment of offenders into newer or progressive programs to impart new skill sets in them or further enhance the skills that they would be in possession of (Maruna, 2002.)
Provision of measurement feedback
The processes and practices that were being measured in the previous principle need to be regularly used to structure and evolve policy so that they can be of maximum benefit to the new offenders who will be going ahead to receive them. Well done audits of the processes not per case but cohort are employed so that it can be objectively determined whether these processes and practices are of practical use and help the offenders to integrate better or they require adjustment so that prospective beneficiaries get what they can utilize better (Welsh, 2015.)
These eight principles are evidence-based and underpin the value that correctional facilities are meant to impart to offenders who require re-entering and re-integrating smoothly. As earlier expressed, they are not uniformly imparted on offenders as different correctional jurisdictions have different ways in which they run their affairs, they, however, are observed in broad strokes and have been shown to be effective. The rate of incarceration and recidivism in the U.S is extremely high, and these principles will require frequent polishing as time goes by so that the society and indeed offenders can benefit from them to the practically achievable maximum.
While many opposing views are raised by stakeholders outside the correctional system especially politicians who want to look tough on crime, scholars have provided data, evidenced-based data that is objective and unadulterated that proves the effectiveness of these principles and therefore supports their use, their revision where need be and their continuous improvement.
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