Reducing the Problem of recidivism:


Prison institutions have evolved over the years, according to King (2001) prior to 1950 these institutions were termed as institutions where prisoners were separated from the society, prisoners were taken as labourers and were required to perform all the hard work. In the 1950’s changes occurred and specialist such as social workers were introduced to help prisoners reform. According to Thomas (1972) the Para military model still remains the base of operation for prison management, this means that prison institutions role security and the provision of activities that occupy time. The current debate is aimed at reforming prison institutions whereby activities engaged in prisons should be aimed at providing prisoners with skills that will help them after release.

The paper discusses a penal policy that can be adopted to resolve the problem of recidivism with reference to the five stage therapeutic career model developed by Gender and Player (1995) and the therapeutic processes by Cullen (1994) and Meta analysis by McGuire (2000). The following is a discussion of some of the underlying principles, processes, also the paper highlights the roles of prisoners, prison officers and prison management in the therapeutic process.

The Penal policy:


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

The penal policy involves the formation of small groups and forming a prison community comprising of prisoners and prison staff members. Cullen (1994) highlights the process of formation of therapeutic communities whereby he states that the community should be involved in both core and supplementary procedures. According to him the prison community should be subdivided into smaller therapy groups whereby each group, the following are the core processes that should be involved:

A. Core procedure:

1. Formation of Small therapy groups:

These groups in the community should have at least 8 prisoners. The groups should hold meeting five times a week. The role of this group should be to allow prisoners to narrate their life history and also their criminal activities. A prison officer should be assigned to each group every prisoner in the group should be allowed to narrate their story.

Prison officers and other specialist should attend the meetings. these small groups form the core to successful reforms according to Cullen (1994). The five stage therapeutic career model by Genders and Player (1995) should form the basis of the process of reforming behaviour in the small groups. the five stage therapeutic career model includes the following stages:

a. Recognition- This stage involves helping prisoners to recognize that they have a problem, prisoners should narrate their life story and highlight problems they face in the prison facility, all members of the group should be allowed to speak and safety should be ensured to encourage


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

them to be honest and open.

b. Motivation -The second stage is motivation, this involves motivating prisoners to change, prison officers and specialist such as psychologist should be engaged in this role by encouraging them to adopt positive behaviour patterns.

c. Understanding- The next stage in the model understands, at these stage prisoners starts to understand how his problems came about, at the same time the prisoner realises how this problems is connected to other parts of his life.

d. Insight -At this stage the prisoner is able to come up with ways in which he or she can change his behaviour patterns in order to resolve his problems, the prisoner is therefore at this stage able to know what needs to be done to resolve problems faced.

e. Testing -This is the last stage in the therapeutic model, it is the testing stage whereby the prisoner is left to practice what he or she has learnt, this stage helps identify the success or failure of the therapeutic process and success can be realised after release.

2. Feedback procedure-After the small groups have met the group members should elect a group member whose role will be to provide feedback, when the community has met, occurrences in the small groups should be reported


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

3. Community meeting-The entire community should meet twice or three times a week whereby problems facing prisoners should be highlighted, prisoners should elect a community leader who will chair the meeting and also help in the resolution of problems facing the inmates, prison officers should also attend these meetings.

B. underlying principles:

The formation of the small therapy groups and the prison community should be based on the following principles, Cullen (1994) highlights four principles that should underlie the therapeutic community and they include:

a. Responsibility:

This involves encouraging collective and individual responsibility. This entails encouraging prisoners to take responsibility of their behaviour and actions

b. empowerment

Prisoners should also be empowered, the prisoners should be allowed to take part in decision making in the community. Empowering also involves allowing prisoners to vote for their leaders and also vote others out in case they violate the community therapy rules that prohibit drug use and violence.

c. support:


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

Prisoners should be supported by prison officers and also by their colleagues, support should be also provided by other specialist such as psychiatrists and psychologists.

d. Confrontation

Confrontations but not violence should be allowed in the group, this will involve allowing prisoners in the small groups to confront those who violate rules and also those who exhibit unacceptable behaviour.

Other principles underlying the therapy process as highlighted by McGuire (2000) in his Meta analyses include:

e. assessment

This involves assessing offenders regarding behaviour change and also identifying problems faced by prisoners. This is in line with the five stage therapy career model whereby prison officers should try assessing the stage at which a prisoner has attained.

f. targeting behaviour

This involves introduction of activities that aim at changing behaviour and not activities that occupy time.


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

e. listening:

This principle involves listening to the needs and problems of the prisoners; this principle is directed to the prison officers and prison management whereby they should listen to prisoners.

C. Role of prison officers:

Having discussed the therapy process and the principles underlying the procedure the other important issue to highlight is the role of prison officers. the following is a discussion of these roles:


Provide support – prison officers should provide support to prisoners in the process, they should extend love and care and help prisoners resolve their problems.

2. Respecting – prison officers should respect prisoners and view them as human beings who can change and adopt positive behaviour.

3. Case workers – monitor prisoners ensure that they engage in the programme


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

4. Therapy – the prison officers should work together to come up with solutions that help resolve problems of drug use, violence and behaviour

D. Role of Prison management:

1. Recruitment:

The prison management should ensure that they recruit the right individuals for the position of prison officers

2. Environment:

The prison management should provide an environment that enhance the development of life skills and improvement of behaviour of prisoners

3. Opportunities:

The prison management should provide opportunities where inmates can positively affect their life example introduction of behaviour change activities.


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism

4. Security

Maintain security and safety and containing incidences that may result into insecurity

5. Human service

Creating an environment that ensures proper communication among the staff and prisoners and also the provision of support through employment of specialists.


From the above it is evident that the therapeutic process takes time and according to a study by Cullen (1994) the successful process takes approximately 18 months, prison officers and prison management have a role to play in the behaviour change process whereby the prison should form a community and this community subdivided into smaller groups that should meet regularly. There are also some principles that should be followed in this process in order to ensure successful reduction of recidivism. The adoption of the above penal policy will therefore be successful if prisoners undergo the five stages of the therapeutic career model and also if the underlying principles are followed.


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism


Cook, F. 1998, Hard Cell, Bluecoat Press, Liverpool.

Cullen, E. 1994, ‘Grendon: the therapeutic prison that works’, Therapeutic Communities, vol 14, no. 4, pp 301–311

Genders, E. and Player, E. 1995, Grendon: A Study of a Therapeutic Prison, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

King, R. 2001, Doing research on crime and justice, Bluecoat Press, Liverpool.

McGuire, J.1995, What Works: Reducing Re offending: Guidelines from Research and Practice, Chichester, Oxford.

McGuire, J. 2000, Cognitive-Behavioural Approaches, Home Office, London.

Taylor, R. 2000, A Seven Year Reconviction Study of HMP Grendon Therapeutic Blackwell, London.

Thomas, E. 1972, The exploding prison: prison riots and the case of Hull, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Wilson, D. and McCabe, S. 2000, ‘How HMP Grendon Works in the Words of Those Undergoing Therapy’, The Howard Journal, Vol 41 No 3.


Reducing the Problem of Recidivism