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Have offending behaviour programmes lived up to their promise?

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Have offending behaviour programmes lived up to their promise? McGuire & Priestley (1985) strongly believe that: "the procedures which a society has developed for coping with its offenders, tells us a great deal about it and that the current established reactions to offence behaviour is through punishment, treatment and practical help" (p9-10). Hence, I intend to discuss and evaluate whether or not offending behaviour programmes (a form of 'treatment and practical help') have lived up to their 'promise' or not? Offending behaviour programmes (or cognitive skills) programmes were introduced during the early 1990's and their "aim was to teach offenders the process of consequential thinking in order to avoid patterns of thinking which lead them to offend". The Prison Service offers a broad range of programmes designed to challenge behaviour which has contributed to a prisoner's criminality or is a factor which many lead to further offending. Prisoners serving long sentences are the main recipients of these programmes. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhaff/193/19311.htm, "Addressing Offending Behaviour", 1st November 2005) Offending behaviour programmes are part of the "What Works" initiative. It means prison and probation practice will be based on approaches and ways of working which are 'known to be effective'. Programmes with good potential will be evaluated, accredited and adopted nationally. ...read more.


The findings of recent research into the effectiveness of cognitive skills programmes in rehabilitating prisoners present a somewhat confusing picture. The most recent evaluation of cognitive skills programmes, published by the Home Office in 2003, found no difference in the reconviction rates for prisoners who had participated in either an Enhanced Thinking Skills or Reasoning and Rehabilitation programme between 1996 and 1998. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhaff/193/19311.htm, "Addressing Offending Behaviour", 1st November 2005) In comparison, other research shows that properly conducted programmes of intervention can have a significant effect on reconviction rates. Typically the effect has been around 10-15% reduction compared to offenders who did not attend structured programmes: "Aggression Replacement Training (ART), a programme developed in Wilshire, which aims to tackle problems of violent offenders. A recent study shows that those attending the course had a reconviction rate of 20.4% compared with 34.5% for those who had not". (RDS, Home Office 2000). 'A limited number of studies of the effectives of these types of programmes have been done in Germany and recently in Sweden'. The only major UK Study of the effectives of such programmes was one carried out over five years ago, by Raynor and Vanstone (1997) that utilised the Canadian "Reasoning and Rehabilitation". ...read more.


In Mid-Glamorgan, these were delivered over thirty-five two hour sessions. A summary of the finings of the STOP evaluation is that there was some evidence of fairly short-term reductions in offending, 35% of programme completers were reconvicted in a year, compared to a predicted rate of 42%; in contrast, a custodial sentenced comparison group with the same predicted reconviction rate showed that 49% were reconvicted within a year of release. (Maguire, Morgan & Reiner. 2002. p1187). The most frequent offender criticisms were that it was boring and not helpful with current problems. The most frequently suggested improvements were that it should be: 'more challenging; more practical; more relevant to their own problems; more supportive in dealing with their problems'. (Roberts, 2004). In conclusion, it comes across that offending behaviour programmes will solve (myth of panacea) all our problems. However, as discussed earlier, these programmes have had received contradictory results. I believe that we should reduce the priority given to offending behaviour programmes and that they should be offered as part of a range of interventions for prisoners; fitted into a much wider rehabilitation agenda. Furthermore, there should be a more sophisticated selection process, to ensure that appropriate prisoners attend each of the particular courses, and that providers of programmes be carefully scrutinised on an on-going basis to ensure satisfactory and consistent high standards of delivery of the programmes. ...read more.

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