Cognitive restructuring: an approach to dealing with violent inmates.

Author:Withrow, Pamela K.
Position::Stemming the Violence

Many offenders do not understand the concept of victimization--except as it applies to themselves. At the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, paroled inmates released with good attitudes and a desire to succeed were committing new crimes and returning to the system. They often made excuses that sounded as if they had been victims and that their crimes were the result of someone else's decision or action. Their crimes have become all too familiar: Someone casts aspersions on their character or their gang affiliation; the offender decides to retaliate; the culprit is shot and injured or killed.

Reformatory staff agreed they needed to do something to change this cycle of violence. We chose cognitive restructuring. The theory is simple: People's thoughts control their behavior. Our challenge was getting inmates to objectively examine their own thinking. Kenneth McGinnis, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, laid the groundwork for this project two years ago when he authorized a four-person team to attend a cognitive training session at the National Institute of Corrections Academy in Longmont, Colo.

Later, Michigan DOC staff were trained under a grant from the academy. We modeled our program after Vermont's Violent Offender Program. The manual we use, called OPTIONS, was developed for the Navy by Brian Billodeau and Jack Bush and is available through the NIC Information Center.

Reformatory staff call this program STP--Strategies for Thinking Productively. We provide training in January and June each year so additional staff, at our institution and others, can get involved in the effort.

STP is a three-part program. Phase I is a 16-session introduction to the terms and tools that will be used throughout the program. Groups of 10 inmates meet twice a week for scripted lessons delivered by two staff facilitators. As often as possible, the facilitators include a corrections officer and a case manager or counselor. Custody and treatment staff are teamed together to work with the group and provide models of desired behavior. During Phase I, offenders are introduced to the concept of criminal thinking errors and the inappropriate behavior that stems from these errors.

Those who work with offenders may recognize characteristics of current or former clients in the following list from Yokelson and Samenow's The Criminal Personality.

Anger--Anger is a basic part of the offender's way of life. He responds angrily to anything he interprets as...

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