Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A High Risk Recognition Program for Adolescents in Conflict with the Law

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A High Risk Recognition Program for Adolescents in Conflict with the Law

Article excerpt


We describe a novel high risk recognition program aimed at reducing recidivism among the heterogeneous young offender population. The program is based on cognitive-behavioural relapse prevention programs for adult sexual offenders. Young offenders identify risk factors or "warning signs" for various forms of offending behaviour based on their analysis of past criminal acts. They then generate strategies for coping with future recurrence of these risk factors. We consider the potential utility and applicability of such an intervention and make recommendations for researching the technique.

Limitations in our ability to adequately deter and treat young offenders are reflected in high rates of rearrest among this population. Jaffe, Leschied, Sas, and Austin (1985) observed a recidivism rate, based on new charges, of 36% over one year in a Canadian sample of 576 adolescents selected to undergo court-ordered assessments as a result of the serious nature of their offenses, chronic histories of delinquency, or emotional difficulties. Among recidivists, 78% were rearrested within the first three months of follow-up. A subsequent analysis of 126 youths from the Jaffe et al. (1985) sample charged since 1984 under the existing Young Offender Act revealed an even higher rate of recidivism: 58% over one year, with 75% of recidivists rearrested within the first three months of follow-up (Leschied, Austin, & Jaffe, 1988). Similar findings of high rearrest rates, particularly within the first several months of follow-up, have been obtained using much larger samples in the U.S., with rates approaching 70% over a six-year period (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1987 cited in Visher, Lattimore, & Linster, 1991).

Meta-analyses examining the impact of rehabilitation on reoffense most often reveal recidivism rates only slightly lower among treated young offenders relative to those who are untreated (Garrett, 1985; Gottschalk, Davidson, Gensheimer, & Mayer, 1987; Whitehead & Lab, 1989). A more recent meta-analysis suggests that reoffense rates are reduced by about 50% among young offenders treated in comprehensive cognitive-behavioural treatment programs relative to youths not receiving such treatment (Andrews, Zinger, Hoge, Bonta, Gendreau, & Cullen, 1990). These more optimistic findings nonetheless suggest that a significant percentage of treated young offenders continue tobe at risk for reoffense.

High rates of reoffense, particularly within the first several months of follow-up, may reflect the focus of current interventions on the short-term cessation of adolescents' offending behaviour and the relative lack of consideration of long-term maintenance of behavioural change. Recidivism can be viewed as failing to maintain behavioural changes made during a period of incarceration or treatment (George & Marlatt, 1989). Interventions directly aimed at maintaining non-offending behaviour may reduce young offender recidivism to a greater degree than reductions obtained through periods of incarceration or through traditional clinical interventions aimed only at initial behaviour change.

Marlatt and Gordon (1980, 1985) developed relapse prevention (RP) as a means of maintaining therapeutic gains following substance abuse treatment. Based on behavioural and social cognitive theories of human behaviour, RP interventions foster the long-term maintenance of adaptive behaviour through improved self-management and enhanced self-efficacy. The RP approach assumes that certain personal and environmental high risk factors (e.g., negative emotional states, social pressure) and other more subtle processes (e.g., lifestyle imbalances) increase the probability of a recurrence of maladaptive behaviour. Factors which exceed a person's ability to adaptively cope with current circumstances lead to a lapse, or temporary loss of self-control. If the lapse is accompanied by self-blaming attributions, negative emotions, and a desire for immediate gratification, a relapse, or full-blown recurrence of the maladaptive behaviour, may occur. …

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