An evaluation of change, a pilot prison cognitive treatment program.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Prison violence is a concern in many correctional institutions. The systems management approach (i.e., assigning an inmate to a higher security level) is costly While there are many different interventions available, cognitive therapies are frequently used to reduce prison violence. A non-voluntary pilot cognitive program (i.e., CHANGE) at a Midwestern prison was evaluated for its impact on official misconduct. One hundred and thirty-six inmates participated in the study. Half were assigned to the group which participated in Phase I of the pilot program, and the other half were assigned to the group which did not receive the intervention. Overall, Phase I of the CHANGE program did not lead to a statistically significant decrease in official inmate misconduct.
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During the last several decades, legislatures throughout the United States have focused on creating laws to "get tough on crime." This has resulted in truth-in-sentencing initiatives, increased penalties for crimes, mandatory sentences, parole and good time: limitations, and restrictions on court and law enforcement discretion (French & Gendreau, 2006). This approach, however, has directly affected the level of control correctional institutions maintain over their inmate populations due to severe overcrowding and a steady increase of long-term offenders. Another side effect of this punitive approach has been an increase in misconduct by inmates. Research indicates that prison violence in the United States has dramatically risen in the past two decades in terms of the overall level and the rate (Baro, 1999; Maitland & Sluder, 1996, 1998; McCorkle, 1993; Patrick, 1998). Thus, the escalation in prison violence has become a pressing concern for prison administrators who are responsible for ensuring a safe, humane, and secure environment within their correctional facilities (Patrick, 1998; Wright, 1994).
Researchers also assert that nonviolent inmate misbehavior has increased as well (Memory, Guo, Parker, & Sutton, 1999). Both nonviolent and violent infractions have direct and indirect consequences on staff and inmates. Increased infractions can lead to reduced safety for both inmates and staff (Goetting & Howsen, 1986). When inmates fear for their personal safety, successful treatment is extremely difficult to accomplish (Ekland-Olson, 1986), and long term psychological harm is likely to occur (Kappeler, Blumberg, & Potter, 1996; Maitland & Sluder; 1996, 1998). Furthermore, research suggests that offenders released from facilities with high rates of misconduct are more likely to recidivate (Eichenthal & Blatchford, 1997). Staff safety is also compromised and, over the long run, this can lead to decreases in job satisfaction and organizational commitment, higher staff turnover, and higher numbers of disability-related retirements (Goetting & Howsen, 1986). Additionally, it has been reported that responding to major prison misconduct is expensive, costing almost $1000 per incident (Love & Jemelka, 1996). With many instances of major misconducts a year in a typical correctional facility, the cost of misconduct is significant (Baro, 1999). Overall, inmate-control problems contribute to higher operational costs, increased liability, and a greater need for higher security prisons (Goetting & Howsen, 1986; Silberman, 1995; Vaughn & del Carmen, 1995). Therefore, it is critical that empirically validated interventions be implemented that successfully reduce both violent and nonviolent inmate misconduct.
Correctional Responses to Violence and Misconduct
While there are many options, there are two general approaches to reduce prison violence. The first is a systems management approach in which an inmate who is classified as prone to violent behavior is placed in a highly restrictive environment (e.g., maximum security prison) (Coyle, 1987; Wang, Owens, Long, Diamond, & Smith, 2000). Under the systems management approach, the main focus is on organizational issues and management rather than treatment and change of the individual (Ward & Baldwin, 1997). While this approach has been partially successful as a stopgap measure, its long-term impact is in question. There is growing evidence that restrictive prison environments have significant and real negative psychological impacts on the incarcerated person and may even increase future violent behavior once the inmate is released (Irwin & Austin, 1997; Johnson, 1996; Toch, 1977). Additionally, the construction and operation of highly restrictive correctional institutions are extremely expensive and may not be cost effective when compared to other responses addressing prison violence.
The second approach attempts to change the individual inmates' behavior by introducing a variety of psychological interventions (French & Gendreau, 2006). These psychological interventions include, but are not limited to, behavior modification, aversion, social learning, and cognitive-based therapies (Fox, 1999; Ellis, 1993; Lester, Braswell, & VanVoorhis, 2004; Ward & Baldwin, 1997). Of these, research has shown that cognitive programming is the most promising (Allen, MacKenzie, & Hickman, 2001; Andrews & Bonta, 1998; Baro, 1999; Henning & Frueh, 1996; Lester & VanVoorhis, 2004). Cognitive-based prison therapies started in the 1970s and have become popular in the past ten years (Baro, 1999). While cognitive programs differ from one another, they all share a common goal of altering the offender's thinking processes and skills (Andrews & Bonta, 2003; Henning & Frueh, 1996; Meichenbaum, 1977). According to Baro (1999), "the primary treatment goal is to restructure the offender's thinking patterns or facilitate more prosocial thinking" (p. 467). Cognitive therapy programs are becoming the preferred treatment strategy in juvenile and adult correctional facilities for the following four reasons: 1) they deal with observable behavior, 2) they do not require the hiring of professional staff such as psychologists, 3) they require confrontation of inappropriate behavior, which can occur in a controlled setting, and 4) they have been shown to be highly effective (Andrews, Zinger, Hoge, Bonta, Gendreau & Cullen, 1990; Antonowicz & Ross, 1994; Izzo & Ross, 1990; Lester & VanVoorhis, 2004; Lipsey, 1992; Matthews & Pitts, 1998; McGuire & Hatcher, 2001; Ross & Fabiano, 1985; Wang et al., 2000). It is important to note that not all voluntary-based cognitive-based programs have been found to lead to desired changes. In a study of 50 at-risk high school students, it was reported that a cognitive intervention had no impact on violence avoidance beliefs immediately after the intervention and three months later (Cirillo, Pruitt, Colwell, Kingery; Hurley, & Ballard, 1998)

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