Corrections Rehabilitation and Treatment

While there is still some debate about the effectiveness of rehabilitation (e.g., Lab and Whitehead, 1988; Whitehead and Lab, 1989), recent literature reviews and meta-analyses provide strong evidence that rehabilitation programs can effectively change offenders.7 This body of literature can guide the examination of what works in corrections programming for juveniles. In general, reviews of the literature show positive evidence of treatment effectiveness (Andrews et al., 1990). For example, in a series of literature reviews, the proportion of studies reporting positive evidence of treatment effectiveness varied from near 50 percent to 86 percent. In reviewing these studies, Andrews and colleagues conclude, "This pattern of results strongly supports exploration of the idea that some service programs are working with at least some offenders under some circumstances" (1990:372). From this perspective, the important issue is not whether something works, but what works for whom.

Some approaches to treatment are better than others. Psychological researchers emphasize that effective treatment programs must follow some basic principles (Gendreau and Ross, 1979, 1987; Cullen and Gendreau, 1989). Recent meta-analyses found that effective corrections treatment programs follow these basic principles (Lipton and Pearson, 1996; Andrews et al., 1990). It appears that to be effective in reducing recidivism, treatment programs must:

  • Be carefully designed to target the specific characteristics and problems of offenders that can be changed in treatment (dynamic characteristics) and that are predictive of future criminal activities (criminogenic characteristics), such as antisocial attitudes and behavior, drug use, and anger responses.

  • Be implemented in a way that is appropriate for the participating offenders and that uses therapeutic techniques known to work (for example, the program must be delivered as designed, and treatment must be provided by appropriately educated and experienced staff).

  • Require offenders to spend a reasonable length of time in the program considering the changes desired (deliver sufficient dosage).

  • Give the most intensive programs to offenders who are at the highest risk for recidivism.

  • Use cognitive and behavioral treatment methods based on theoretical models such as behaviorism, social learning, or cognitive behavioral theories of change that emphasize positive reinforcement contingencies for pro-social behavior and are individualized as much as possible.

The question is: How closely do these principles of effective treatment apply to the model of juvenile aftercare proposed by Altschuler and Armstrong? Most notably, none of these principles refer directly to the reintegration focus of their model. The principles of rehabilitation summarized above give little guidance on whether an emphasis on reintegration will be more effective than other types of programs. It has not been shown that recidivism will be reduced by the emphasis on "preparing confined offenders for reentry into the specific communities to which they will return" (p. 2), and by "making the necessary arrangements and linkages with agencies and individuals in the community that relate to known risk and protective factors" (p. 2). On the other hand, the components of the treatment process advocated by Altschuler and Armstrong are supported by the meta-analyses research. As Altschuler and Armstrong argue, programs must be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the design of the program (i.e., have therapeutic integrity) and provide sufficient time in treatment to permit change to occur.

7 Andrews and Bonta, 1994; Andrews, Bonta, and Hoge, 1990; Andrews et al., 1990; Palmer, 1975; Gendreau and Ross, 1979, 1987.

Reintegration, Supervised Release, and Intensive Aftercare Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  July 1999