If treatment of criminogenic needs seems to be the only effective method of reducing recidivism, the need for psychologists in prisons, to assist I the implementation of these treatment programmes is imperative. Ross and Fabiano (1985) found that persistent offenders lack cognitive skills and programmes that are successful at reducing reoffending behaviour tend to have component that deals with the treatment of cognitive skills.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy works on the belief that behaviour is the product of cognitive processes and the modification of thought, attitudes, reasoning and problem solving skills can change behaviour and eventually the frequency of offending behaviour. Programmes that are cognitive skills based work on the following principles. Firstly, offenders must be sent on a programme that matches their level of risk and that targets criminogenic needs that have affected them.
Level of risk assessment and identification of relevant criminogenic needs that need to be addressed can be and is usually done by psychologists, reconfirming the advantages of employing a psychologist to work within a prison. The multi modal Reasoning and Rehabilitation Project (Ross, Fabiano and Ewles, 1988) combines various social cognitive skills training techniques that encourage offenders to think before acting in a rash manner, to consider the consequences (for others as well as themselves) of their behaviour and to implement different ways of reacting to interpersonal problems.
It is also important to match the learning styles of the offenders to the type of training programme they are enrolled in, and also to have sills based programmes. The use of manual based programmes is also effective because they keep offenders continuously engaged, thus preventing non-compliance, reversal and drifting. Meta-analytic studies have suggested that community based programmes are more effective than prison based ones, however there is some dispute over whether this is the case or not.
The UK has incorporated cognitive skills based programmes in an almost over zealous acceptance of its effectiveness. Studies are showing that there seems to be an over-reliance on cognitive skills and the programmes seem not to be placing enough emphasis on context. Different programmes that are better structured to attending to a variety of offenders needs (criminogenic and non-criminogenic), taking into account contextual factors will ultimately produce better results.
A note needs to be made here that the use of recidivism as the sole measurement of change in the behaviour of prisoners is not necessarily correct. Prisoners are typically sent on programmes that last six to eight weeks usually consisting of only a 2 hour session on any one day. Spending two hours a day for six to eight weeks of a 7 year sentence is not likely to have life-changing implications.
Also, prisoners deemed as 'untreatable' (by untreatable we refer to psychopaths – the beliefs of the prison system is often of the thread that since there is no cure for them, there is no need for participation in a programme) or 'lacking in motivation' are excluded from programmes. Are these not the very people that need treatment? Perhaps more so than prisoners that are motivated and want to reform. The large scale implementation of programmes reduces their effectiveness since it makes it difficult to maintain progress and check-up on training.
There is a definite need to concentrate on the specifics when assessing what works when aiming to reduce recidivism and understanding why certain strategies work and others do not will ultimately lead to more effectiveness in the treatment of offenders. Psychologists working with life sentenced prisoners When working with prisoners who have been given life sentences (average length in the UK being 14 years for a single sentence), psychologists are mainly concerned with clinical risk-assessment procedures since the release of lifers on license is based on the consideration of their risk of …
re-offending. Needs & Towl (1997) outline principles that are important in achieving successful risk assessment. They insist upon the importance of 'specifying precisely' the behaviour that the psychologists are trying to estimate the chances of taking place. They also argue that the accuracy of risk assessments is greater when estimating shorter time periods for assessing chances of recurrence, thus highlighting the importance of monitoring, intervention and re-assessment.
Needs & Towl (1997) also advocate that psychologists need to explore deeply the factors that may increase the risk of re-offending behaviour of individual cases and the degrees of which the factors have an effect on prisoners must be clearly described advising that 'details of both objective and subjective factors may, if expressed in assessment reports, serve as useful pointers for other practitioners who may come into contact later with the lifer.
' Finally, they state that it is important to detail the factors that may be instrumental in decreasing the risk of grave re-offending. In addition to risk assessment with lifers in prison who are trying to work their way through the different categories of detainment, sometime psychologists may also be required to work in accordance with the supervising probation officers in the risk assessment and management of lifers in the community. Conclusions Psychologists have many uses in prisons.
When employed in a prison, forensic psychologists are useful in training staff, using their expertise to help staff identify effective methods of implementing offending behaviour programmes and since the UK has allocated i?? 3 million of the national budget to setting up and implementing such programmes, it follows that the an increasing number of prison staff will need to be trained in the administration techniques of such programmes The main aim of the work that psychologists do within the Prison Service is to effectively reduce the risk of the offenders perpetrating the law again after they are released from prisons.
There are many methods that have been applied and researched and the general consensus is that whilst Cognitive Behaviour Therapy inspired programmes are more effective than previous methods, contextual considerations need to be taken with regards to the factors that affect individual prisoners' temperament and chances of 'staying clean' when rejoining the community. It is important for the effectiveness of offending behaviour programmes that implicit consideration is given to determining factors affecting the individual cases of prisoners rather than placing all into one programmes.
This need for better detailed risk assessment reports by psychologists is further amplified when working with lifers who suffer from many other factors including mental health problems (Moore, 1996). The work that psychologists do with women, young offenders and suicidal prisoners must not be underestimated since they play a major role in the treatment of prisoners who have displayed suicidal tendencies and there has been much research as well as practical application over the past decade into securing safer conditions in prisons to minimise the ease with which prisoners are able to injure and even kill themselves.