Magazine article USA TODAY

Written Interactions Predict Incarceration

Magazine article USA TODAY

Written Interactions Predict Incarceration

Article excerpt

The evolution of how prisoners in substance-abuse programs communicate is a good indicator of whether they will return to crime, research in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment has found. The relationships among prisoners enrolled in "therapeutic communities," which focus on rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction, are key to those programs' effectiveness, notes social worker Keith Warren.

The theory behind these efforts rests on the idea that peer interaction will support learning that displaces ingrained (and unhealthy) ways of thinking that stand in the way of people leaving addiction behind.

In this study, Warren and coauthor Nathan Doogan analyzed written communications collected at minimum-security facilities with programs designed as an alternative to traditional prison time. The more a participant's language choices changed during rehab, the less likely that individual was to return to prison, they found. "It's not just being in the program that seems to help; it's the cognitive engagement in it," Warren states.

The messages exchanged come in two forms; "push-ups," are congratulatory notes to a peer--something like, "Good job talking about your triggers in group today, man." The second, called "pull-ups," are meant to steer a fellow prisoner toward better choices--something like, "Hey brother, next time try talking to me instead of getting into a fight." Once approved as appropriate for group consumption, the written notes typically are read aloud to the group during mealtime or meetings. …

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