JUN 17, 2015 3:38 PM PDT

Psychopaths and Prisons

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
How can society rehabilitate criminals? How does that change when the criminals have psychopathic tendencies? How can we be sure that the inmates are not taking advantage of the system?
Can psychopathic criminals be rehabilitated?
Cognitive therapy might be able to help some psychopaths stay out of prison, dispelling old theories, according to a group of New Zealand researchers. While earlier studies predicted that psychopaths were at high risk for returning to their old habits, and thus returning to prison, new research indicates that understanding the problems more accurately and developing better programs to deal with them will have a far different outcome, according to findings reported in Psychology, Crime and Law and summarized by Bruce Bower in Science News.

The article cited an experimental treatment program for violent criminals, conducted between 1968 and 1978 in a Canadian maximum security psychiatric facility 90 miles north of Toronto. Using mind-altering drugs, encounter groups and other tactics to prepare inmates for life on the outside of the prison walls, the researchers at that time found that offenders with psychopathic personalities came out of the program more violent than ever. Experts believed that psychopaths exploit psychological treatments to become better criminals. Mounting evidence indicates, however, that better-designed prison programs can help criminals with psychopathic personalities live less violently once released, says psychologist Devon Polaschek of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand (https://www.sciencenews.org/article/rehab-psychopaths).

Seeking to improve the methodology of offender risk assessment by developing tools to help with parole management and incorporating protective factors "specific to re-entry," the new study was designed to "validate a measure of stable and acute dynamic risk factors and protective factors used by probation officers managing offenders in the community: the Dynamic Risk Assessment for Offender Re-Entry (DRAOR)," according to Polaschek. In the article in Psychology, Crime and Law, he explained that "empirical examination of the structure of DRAOR scores soon after release from prison suggested four components, rather than the theoretically proposed three-subscale structure...These findings provide initial support for the validity of the DRAOR." The article ("Assessing dynamic risk and protective factors in the community: examining the validity of the Dynamic Risk Assessment for Offender Re-entry") also suggested ideas for future research (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1068316X.2014.935775).

Focusing on "men who are identified as high risk, violent and sexual offenders by the criminal justice system," Polaschek and his colleagues use various methods to investigate research questions about the characteristics of these people and ways to help them to stop their criminal activities and have "more prosocial, constructive and successful lives." Their research, much of which is supported by funding from the New Zealand Department of Corrections, involves projects to determine the effectiveness of offender rehabilitation in reducing the risk of reoffending and for whom it is effective. The group is analyzing data from a study on the impact of "intensive psychological treatment in prison on life on parole and desistance from reoffending" using archival datasets and data collected from offenders. Data include official records, interview and psychometric data and experimental results (http://correctional-psychology.com/).
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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