In the criminal justice system there are many factors that cannot be changed that may negatively affect the individual and their likelihood to relapse and/or recidivate. Such factors include criminal records which cannot be erased, family situations, and jobs that will not hire felons. Yet, there are other factors, or criminogenic needs, that are highly linked to criminal behavior and can be intervened with to lower the risk of offending. Research has revealed six factors that should be addressed in programs in order to decrease the risk (Andrews and Bonta, 2003).  These factors include:

  1. Improved self-control
  2. Increased circle of caring
  3. Engagement in pro social values
  4. Increased contact with pro social “faces and places”
  5. Substance use treatment
  6. Reconnection to primary/health relationships

People with low self-control are more likely to a commit crime. Improving self-control can focus on utilizing talents, discussing what has previously worked, and recognizing tough situations and role-playing how to get through them. Research shows that the portion of the brain that is activated when experiencing negative emotions (i.e. fear or anger) supersedes logical decision making abilities (Lipchik, et. al, 2005). Thus focusing on positive aspects of life, improves self control and rational decision making.

Those who do not have a group of friends or family they can trust and confide in and those who are antisocial tend not to care about how their behaviors may affect others. Some offenders have a circle who they care about, but it is typically a small circle, such as immediate family or gang members, and their circle does not extend outside of this small group.  As such, connecting offenders to other resources will assist in overcoming this. Such resources can include faith-based organizations, 12-step programs, mentors, or co-workers. Volunteering and philanthropic involvement in the community is another method to get involved and develop a circle (Maruna and LeBel, 2003), while also giving back to the community.

By bringing out the offender’s strengths and social behaviors, they often are able to develop relationships and values. Frequently, the individual has disassociated himself from the larger community, because of guilt, shame, fear, or being ostracized. Often, they begin only to associate with the smaller group of individuals discussed in the previous paragraph. Yet, engaging prosocial behaviors and pushing involvement in the larger community, assists in developing empathy and concern for other humans.

We have heard our whole life “you are the company you keep,” which is very true. If you surround yourself with drug dealers, you eventually will try drugs. If you surround yourself with people who practice abstinence and do not drink, you are not going to show up to the Friday evening get together with this group with a case of beer. Following the 12-step model of recovery, individuals must change their people, places, and things, or “increase contact with pro social faces and places,” which will lead the highest chance for success.

It is no secret that there is a high correlation between substance use and criminal activity. Offenders may act in criminal manners that they typically would not if not under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Or, they may commit the crimes in order to support their drug habit. Often property crimes, such as robbery or breaking and entering, are committed to support addictions; property is stolen in order to gain money to purchase drugs.  Therefore, substance use treatment must be provided, but programs must offer such treatment in manners that have been found to be effective. The client must be prepared and willing to accept the treatment and the treatment must be delivered in a manner that works. Implementing the principals of the 12-steps through the peer-based model is among the most effective means.

Background and family history often has many negative effects on individuals, leading them to use drugs and/or alcohol and into a lifestyle of criminality. Positive role models throughout life typically are lacking. Friends and family who may have been supportive and tried to stand by the offenders’ side, may have fled because they had been taken advantage of too many times. Programs should help connect offenders to positive influences and assist them in restoring broken relationships.

By implementing these dynamic factors, show promise in enabling the offender to change and develop positive lifestyle choices.

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1 Comment

  1. Great piece Sarah! As a former prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the devastation that substance use disorders can have on the justice system – especially the victims – but also on the offenders themselves. As a woman in long term recovery, I have seen the hope and promises that sobriety can bring. I am trying to advocate these ideas to prosecutors and judges and would love to collaborate with you on ways to do this in the new year. Thanks for all the great articles – you are certainly shining a light on an issue that many people choose to ignore. Thanks – and Merry Christmas!


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