Show The Graduate Center Menu

To Prevent Recidivism Try Better Therapy

male hands grip prison bars, illustrating research about prison therapy by two Graduate Center professors
By Beth Harpaz 
Editor of SUM 

In mid-20th century America, rehabilitation and education were guiding principles in the treatment of prisoners. But as crime rose, that emphasis shifted from rehabilitation to policies that were “tough on crime.” The notion that “nothing works” to prevent recidivism became a popularly held belief.
A new book, New Frontiers in Offender Treatment: The Translation of Evidence-Based Practices in Correctional Settings, counters the myth that “nothing works,” and analyzes a plethora of research about therapeutic approaches that do help people in prison or post-prison lead productive lives.
Professors Elizabeth Jeglic and Cynthia Calkins (both GC/John Jay, Psychology) co-edited the book and wrote some of the chapters. Other contributors include professors Michele Galietta and Philip Yanos (both John Jay/GC, psychology); Kseniya Katsman, who holds a master’s degree from John Jay, and Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate Joseph DeLuca.
Jeglic, who teaches a course on treatment and rehabilitation of offenders, said the new book fills a gap in the literature. “There wasn’t a volume that addressed the issues I wanted to address,” she said in an interview.
The book outlines the latest approaches to treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy, which emphasizes actions, problem-solving, and coping strategies, rather than a psychoanalytic approach exploring why people behave the way they do.

Jeglic says the “new zeitgeist” in offender treatment also involves “positive psychology,” using a “strengths-based approach” and a “good lives model.” That means instead of telling people, “You are bad, you have done this bad thing,” therapists should ask, “How can you do this differently?” while helping individuals figure out what they’ve done right in their lives and how to sustain that.
One of Jeglic’s chapters examines what personal characteristics increase a therapist’s effectiveness. Research suggests that a “harsh, confrontational” style has a negative impact, while “warmth and empathy” were positively associated with treatment outcome. Knowledge of psychopathology, suicide prevention, and psychopharmacology also increases effectiveness.
The book explores diversity as an element of treatment as well. “We know that people are more likely to participate in therapy with someone who looks more like them,” Jeglic said. “We can work toward increasing diversity among those providing the treatment, and we can also help therapists understand that race, cultural, ethnic, and gender identity issues may come into play and need to be addressed.”
The book stresses that treatment should be prioritized for individuals with long criminal records, those who have committed serious crimes, and in cases where issues like substance abuse are a concern. While “treatment can help anybody be a better person, given limited resources, we have to dedicate those resources to those at higher risk of re-offending,” Jeglic said.
The book also offers some surprising statistics. Jeglic says when she asks police officers to estimate recidivism among sex offenders, they will say 95 or 100 percent. But recidivism among sex offenders is significantly lower: 13.7 percent over five years. Therapeutic treatment lowers that rate by another 2 percent, Jeglic said. “We need to figure out better what the treatments are that work, and that’s a lot of what this book is talking about.”

Beth Harpaz is the editor of SUM. Follow her on Twitter at @literarydj.

Submitted on: JAN 7, 2019

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Psychology | Research Studies