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Working with offenders after sentencing Assignment

When an offender has been through the court processes and a guilty verdict has been reached, an appropriate sentence has to be decided. When a conclusion regarding the gravity of the offence is reached, suitable community protection must be enforced through punishment or rehabilitation or a combination of the two (Birgden, 2008). There is much dispute regarding the effectiveness of particular sentences on offender recidivism (McGuire, 2002).

It was reported that within the four main types of sentencing used by English court systems (imprisonment, community service orders, probation orders and probation with additional requirements) there was no more than 3% variation between predicted and actual reoffending rates for every sentence (Lloyd, Mair & Hough, 1994). This has practical implications as it can be argued that sentencing type has no influence on whether a criminal will reoffend, and it is therefore irrelevant. Despite this, there are many reported benefits associated with different types of sentence attempting to punish and/or rehabilitate offenders.

For serious offences, prison is the main method of punishment. It is widely regarded by the public and policy makers that prison is the most severe and effective form of punishment for criminal behaviour within the judicial system (Doob, Sprott, Marinos, & Varma, 1998; Spelman, 1995; Wood & Grasmick, 1999), and expected by both that imprisonment has robust deterrent effects for reoffending in the future (DeJong, 1997). These deterrent effects are twofold; deterrence for the population as a whole (general deterrence) and for adjudicated offenders (specific deterrence) (McGuire, 2002).

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Clarke and Cornish’s (1985) pioneering rational choice theory assumes that a potential criminal decides whether to commit a crime after evaluating costs and benefits of the particular crime. Therefore, the notion that prison will act as both a general and specific deterrent may be attempting to address the process of committing a crime as a rational decision, and would assume that potential criminals (including individuals who have never committed an offence, and individuals who have previously been imprisoned) would believe prison to be a powerful disincentive not to commit a crime.

It has been maintained that imprisonment imposes direct and indirect costs onto prisoners (e. g. loss of income, stigmatisation upon release, and psychological effects of prison), and therefore faced with the prospect of returning to prison, a rational individual would choose to not engage in further criminal activities (e. g. Nagin, 1998; Wood & Grasmick, 1999).

This theory has been displayed in a study using aggregate data by Fabelo (1995), who reported a 30% increase in incarceration rates across 50 U. S. tates, which corresponded with a 5% decrease in crime rates over a five year period. This study was interpreted as convincing evidence that imprisonment is a robust deterrent (Reynolds, 1996), however, problems with such studies using aggregate data have been criticised for expressing results in correlational terms and inflating individual level results (Zajonc & Mullaly, 1997).

Research such as Fabelo (1995) also may be criticised for not allowing causality to be inferred due to many extraneous factors such as demographics (von Hirsch et al. 1999) There are many other arguments as to why prison may not increase specific deterrence. It has been argued that prison as punishment for criminal acts does not have any positive effects on recidivism rates after release as it only temporarily suppresses undesired behaviour (Hollin, 1992; Losel, 1995), and even teaches prisoners more undesirable skills and behaviours (Sanson, 1995).

Conversely it may be argued that as undesirable behaviours are suppressed while the individual is imprisoned, there may be opportunity for the offender to participate in rehabilitative projects such as social skills and educational programs to learn acceptable alternative behaviours as an alternative to crime (Sanson, 1995). It has been suggested that rehabilitation is more effective at reducing reoffending than punishment (Birgden, 2008) and that the most effective way to produce behavioural change is not to simply suppress the inappropriate behaviours, but promote socially acceptable ones (Blackman, 1996).

Rehabilitation attempts to bring about individual changes in offenders, and is sometimes expressed as offender treatment (Hollin & Palmer, 2009), and rehabilitative projects can be used both for offenders while imprisoned, and as sentences for offenders who have committed crimes not worthy of imprisonment. Rehabilitation of offenders as a means of treatment and addressing recidivistic behaviours can be implemented using a number a methods which attempt to address core issues within the offender (McGuire, 2002).

There are many proposed reasons why individuals become criminals, and Joseph (2001) found that both genetic and environmental factors play significant roles in the individual differences associated with criminal and antisocial behaviour. For example, it has been highlighted that a stable family environment may minimise predisposition to crime, and that development of criminal behaviour was correlated with poor family communication and weak bonds (Garnefski & Okma, 1996; Schmitz, 2003).

It has also been suggested that childhood victimization leads to development of personality disorders later in life (Widom, 1994). These factors may contribute to the fact that offenders have failed to learn socially appropriate behaviours, and therefore may benefit from rehabilitation projects using techniques such as cognitive-behavioural modification to attempt to help offenders face the consequences of their actions and develop new ways to control their behaviour (Husband & Platt, 1993; McGuire, 2000).

Meta analyses led to formulations of principles of effective practices when working with offenders, and three key principles were established: risk principle, needs principle and responsivity principle (Hollin & Palmer, 2009). Adherence to the risk principle was seen as a critical factor in relation to outcome (Andrews & Dowden, 2006) and it has been suggested that effective treatment would be cognitive behavioural in orientation, and a structured programme delivered by highly trained staff (Hollin & Palmer, 2009).

Many cognitive skills programmes have been developed to help the offender implement personal changes, and programmes such as Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R & R) and Think Fast aim to promote alternative ways of thinking for the offender through cognitive behavioural techniques such as role-play and reinforcement, hopefully leading to prosocial behaviour (Hollin & Palmer, 2009). Blud, Travers, Nugent and Thornton (2003) examined the effects of R&R on cognitive functioning, and found that the majority of measures showed change in the anticipated direction, indicating a positive effect on prisoner’s cognitive skills.

Wilson, Attrill, and Nugent (2003) had similar findings in their large scale prison study. Studies examining the effectiveness of R&R on reconviction rates reported a significantly lower reconviction rate for offenders who completed treatment (Friendship, Blud, Erikson, Travers, & Thornton, 2002; Robinson, 1995). However, there have been criticisms of the methods of measurement of cognitive behavioural techniques due to the majority of studies not employed randomised control trials, which are seen to be the ‘gold standard’ for research.

However, it has been duly noted that even successfully reported interventions have major limitations in that they have a relatively narrow focus, and do not fully account for the multidetermined nature of antisocial and criminal behaviour (Borduin, 1994; Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992). Causal modelling studies have consistently demonstrated the multiple roots of delinquent behaviour with links to family, peer groups, schools and neighbourhood systems (e. g. Patterson & Dishion, 1985; Simcha-Fagan & Schwartz, 1986) supporting social-ecological beliefs about the origins of criminal behaviour (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Multisystemic therapy (MST) was designed to tackle these multiple causes of antisocial and criminal behaviour, and it has been proven that it has a significant effect on criminal activity of serious juvenile offenders in several trials (e. g. Borduin & Henggeler, 1990; Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998). MST interventions are individualised for every offender, and extremely flexible, but almost always use some form of home and community-based service delivery including sessions in the family home and parent empowerment sessions, and sessions in schools and recreation centres (Schaeffer & Borduin, 2005).

A long-term follow up study comparing MST to individual therapies including cognitive practices found that participants who received MST had significantly lower recidivism and arrest rates than other individuals who received individual therapies (Schaeffer & Borduin, 2005). Despite the success rates of cognitive behavioural and MST therapies for many different types of offender, there is some concern regarding the recidivism rates of dangerous sexual offenders (Proulx et al. , 1999).

Many sexual offenders upon prison release will be required to undergo community-based treatment programs; however, therapy alone cannot be relied upon to reduce reoffending risks (McConaghy, 1993). It has therefore been proposed that biological approaches aiming to reduce the danger of recidivism during a period of time when cognitive and behavioural treatments are taking effect may be appropriate for the limited population of sex offenders who may represent an imminent risk to the community (Maletzky & Field, 2003).

This limited population is identified using semiquantitative scales which predict sexual risk to be at large. A number of contributory factors such as deviant sexual arousal, central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction, and prior responses to sex offender treatment may be examined to enable a conclusion to be reached deciding whether biological treatments are appropriate for the particular individual (Maletzky & Field, 2003).

Some sex offenders may be at a higher risk than others and more likely to need biological treatments as there may be underlying physiological causes, such as the aforementioned dysfunction of the CNS. For example, Burns and Swerdlow (2003) also report the ceasing of paedophilic behaviours after a patient with a history of sex offending had an orbitofrontal tumour removed. This would suggest that biological treatments would be a necessary and effective way of treating sex offenders.

There are a number of biological treatment options available for the treatment of sex offenders, and one of these is castration. Castration has been reported as having high success rates for reducing recidivism, and many studies examining recidivism rates post castration consistently report recidivism rates of less than 2% (e. g. Ortmann, 1980; Sturup, 1968). However, the reliability of these figures has been questioned as they were based on retrospective accounts, and also may not have considered the fact that some individuals may have committed sexual crimes which went undetected (Maletzky & Field, 2003).

Castration has also been viewed as a barbaric punishment, and a form of physical assault (Maletzky, 1997) and is therefore not widely used unless specially requested by the offender as a substitution for other punishments (Maletzky & Field, 2003). The most widely used biological treatment for sexual offenders across Europe and Canada is cyproterone acetate (CPA) (Maletzky & Field, 2003). Rosler & Witzum, 2000 report the clinical usefulness of CPA in their review in reducing recidivism rates, however very few follow up studies measuring actual recidivism rates of sex offenders after CPA treatment exist.

There are however, reports that offenders receiving CPA showed a decrease in arousal as measured by the penile plethysmograph (Bradford & Pawlak, 1993), and a significantly reduced number of erections and sexual interest; however this study only included nine men (Cooper, 1981). Meyer and Cole (1997) also found that most patients reported reductions in sexual thoughts and fantasies, and a decrease in urges to commit sexual crimes.

There are many proposed theories as to why individuals become criminals, and these have implications to the type of sentencing which should be the most effective. It is widely believed that prison should be both a general and specific deterrent and should act as disincentive not to commit a crime when thinking about committing an offence in terms of risks and benefits. Much emphasis has been placed on the role of cognitive deficits play in offenders who commit criminal acts, resulting in many sentences for criminal activity incorporating cognitive behavioural therapies.

Extended therapies in the form of MBT exist due to the belief that individuals perform criminal acts due to a number of factors, and MBT aims to address this. Biological methods are not generally used on criminals in general, however in specific offender groups for example sex offenders, there seems to be good use for biological therapies and these are widely used. In conclusion, there are many sentences for criminals which address the issue of either punishment or rehabilitation and some aspects of both, and can be seen to have both positive and negative aspects.

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