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"Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view."

- Richard P. Feynman, Physicist

"There is a danger in clarity, the danger of over looking the subtleties of truth."

-Alfred North Whitehead

October 4, 2010

Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Reduces Recidivism

Cognitive behavioral therapy has become the principal method of treating humans with behavioral issues.[i] Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the premise that human thought processes affect behavior, that people can become more aware of their thought processes, that they can change their thought processes, and that these changes in thought processes result in changes in behavior. These programs include such programs as errors in criminal thinking. Therapy based on the cognitive-behavioral model has been shown to be effective in reducing recidivism.

MacKenzie (2006) and her colleagues conducted a literature review and a meta-analysis of the literature and concluded that “cognitive-behavioral programs appear to be effective in reducing future criminal activities of offenders.”[ii] Aos et al. (2006) and Drake et al (2009) completed a meta-analysis of 545 studies of correctional programs.[iii] They concluded that the following cognitive-behavior programs were effective in reducing recidivism (followed by the percentage reduction in the recidivism rate); Cognitive-behavior drug treatment in prison (-6.8%), general and specific cognitive-behavioral treatment programs for the general offender population (-8.2%), sex offender cognitive-behavioral treatment in prison (-14.9%), and cognitive-behavioral treatment for low risk sex offenders on probation (-31.2%). [iv] Drake et al (2009) found that cognitive-behavioral therapy in prison or the community had one of the highest cost-benefit ratios of the treatment regimes they evaluated.[v]

Andrews and Bonta (2010) argue that the majority of criminal offenders learn through doing rather than through didactic teaching, and therefore cognitive-behavioral therapies match the offenders’ learning style making it far more effective than other types of therapy.[vi]

Andrews and Bonta argue that the key to any successful treatment is to 1.) identify the risk level of offenders, and target the high and medium risk offenders for the more intensive treatment. (low risk offenders should not interact with high risk offenders), 2.) identify those criminological needs that have been associated with criminal offending, and 3.) develop a treatment program in a style and mode that reflects the individual ability and learning style of the offender.[vii] Again, Andrews and Bonta argue that programs based on the cognitive-behavioral method are the effective treatment programs to reduce recidivism.

Aos et al (2006) also found the following programs to be effective (program followed by percentage reduction in recidivism rate) : 1. drug treatment in the community (-12.6%) , drug treatment in jail (-6.0%), adult drug courts (-10.7), intensive probation supervision with treatment (-21.9%) (intensive probation supervision without treatment had no effect.); in-prison therapeutic communities with community aftercare (-6.9%), in-prison therapeutic communities without community aftercare (-5.3%).[viii]

Aos et al identified several programs that that require additional study, but may be effective as they show early promise. Those programs are therapeutic programs for mentally ill offenders, and a program called “Circles of Support and Accountability” where five volunteers visit or contact sex offenders each week.

These studies have identified many programs that don’t work. I will address those programs in another entry.



[i] MacKenzie, Doris Layton (2006), What works in Corrections-Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents, New York, Cambridge University Press, p. 112.

[ii] Ibid, p. 114.

[iii] Drake, Elizabeth K. Steve Aos and Marna G. Miller, 2009, “Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce Crime and Criminal Justice Costs: Implications in Washington State” Victims and Offenders, 4:170-196; Aos, Steve, Marna Miller, and Elizabeth Drake, (2006). “Evidence-Based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not.” Olympia:Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

[iv] Ibid Aos et al (2006), p. 3

[v] Ibid Drake et al (2009) p. 184.

[vi] Andrews, D.A. and James Bonta, 2010, The Psychology of Criminal Conduct 5th Ed., New Jersey, Matthew Bender, p. 539.

[vii] Ibid, pp 44-52.

[viii] Ibid Aos et al (2006) p. 3.

The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.

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