The VIOLENCE PREVENTION Program: Intensive Correctional Treatment

Article excerpt

Developed for Correctional Service Canada's (CSC) federal division by [system.sup.1] psychologists, the Violence Prevention Program (VPP) is high-intensity treatment designed to reduce the risk of recidivism by offenders with histories of committing violent crimes.

Canadian correctional research shows that a history of violent offending is a strong predictor of future violence (Motiuk, Belcourt and Nafekh, 1997). Violent offenders are more likely to return to prison--whether for new offenses or for parole violations--and to commit new violent crimes. The principles of effective correctional programming indicate that treatment delivered to high-risk offenders reduces crime, making it the logical focus of intensive treatment efforts (Gendreau and Ross, 1980).

During the past decade, CSC developed a number of high-intensity treatment programs for the violent offender population. For the most part, the programs were available in regional psychiatric centers, but their residential nature limited the number of offenders who could participate. Also, the programs were developed independently, thus, although their overall objectives were identical, treatment methods, assessments and outcome measures varied greatly. As a result, in 1998, the CSC Programs Branch was tasked with standardizing treatment so the same program would be delivered at each institution. The outcome was VPP, a nonconfrontational program based on nonjudgmental therapeutic relationships.

Guiding Principles

Piloted at six institutions in 1999, VPP has several guiding principles, with the foremost the safe reintegration of offenders, appearing in CSC's mission statement. The program's goal to reduce the risk of violent recidivism is closely linked to the idea that correctional treatment reduces crime if the behaviors targeted for change are directly connected to the causes of criminal behavior. It addresses the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that have been linked to violent offending.

Because it appears that there are many causes of violent crime, the program employs a number of methods in its approach. A large portion of the treatment is devoted to improving violent offenders' skills, such as anger and impulse control, problem-solving and conflict resolution. Also, the program challenges the values and attitudes that support violence and explores lifestyle issues, including crime, alcohol and substance abuse, procriminal peers and unemployment.

A cognitive-behavioral program, VPP assumes that violence is a learned behavior--mediated by certain anti-social thoughts--that can be unlearned. Change is considered an internally driven process: People are motivated to change when their actions no longer get them what they want or when the costs outweigh the benefits.

One of the most dramatic components of the program is the acknowledgment that participants have earned certain rewards, such as financial gain, status or respect among peers, through their use of violence. Violence has met, at least in the short-term, some of their goals. But at the same time, participants are repeatedly encouraged to examine the long-term consequences of their violent actions and how they impact the kinds of lives they want for themselves and their loved ones. They are directed to examine the discrepancy between their long-term goals and their current behaviors in an effort to teach them more constructive ways to reach their goals. The offenders also are told that they are free to choose and that they possess the responsibility for change. In the process, they learn to solve their own problems and correct the behaviors and thoughts that led to their incarceration.

theoretical underpinnings

VPP's motivation-to-change model is based largely on the work of William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick and their motivational interviewing techniques. Under this model, participants examine the reasons they may or may not want to change. …