Positive Criminology: A Catalyst for Change?

By Wilson, Christina R.; Bastidas, Elena P. | Corrections Today, May-June 2017 | Go to article overview

Positive Criminology: A Catalyst for Change?


Wilson, Christina R., Bastidas, Elena P., Corrections Today


Today, the U.S. finds itself at a pivotal point in criminal justice history. In a 2015 article, Alex Altman and Maya Rhodan of TIME.com dispatched the details of unprecedented bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system as a result of issues, such as skyrocketing incarceration costs and profound racial disparities. (1) They created a bill, known as the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act," that came to represent a crucial change in direction for criminal justice. Thus, as legislation pertaining to criminological practices transforms, the American corrections field must persist in maintaining law and order while upholding the mission to protect and serve. So how does the system achieve this pressing mission amid historic social change?

In his 2002 presidential address to the American Society of Criminology, Lawrence Sherman stated the punitive approach to criminal justice has failed, and he called for the development of a new, more emotionally intelligent criminal justice system. They would achieve this new system through practices that promote awareness of its emotions, recognize emotions of victims and offenders, and competently manage emotions within it. Sherman, along with citations from Harry Woolf, lord chief justice of England and Wales, urged the development of a holistic justice system, which uses community-based penalties, restorative justice, drug treatment and rehabilitation to further its successes. One objective of a renewed system employs enhanced case processing to reduce anger in clients, consequently reducing the likelihood of additional crimes. (2)

The U.S. legislature has come together to begin addressing Sherman and Woolf s call for more innovation and less punitive practices. Various paradigms and practices constitute innovative and holistic justice, ultimately creating an emotionally intelligent system. These practices include positive criminology, restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, desistance theory, procedural justice and motivational interviewing. This article focuses primarily on positive criminology and closely associated approaches, as well as provides examples of incorporating these concepts with correctional clients.

Reaching Out with Purposeful Engagement Skills (ROPES), a 12-session, holistic conflict resolution course created by author Dr. Christina Wilson, combines 17 years of criminal justice experience and conflict resolution expertise to teach inmates conflict resolution and socio-emotional skills. The course incorporates themes of restorative justice and emotional intelligence, along with skills such as active listening, appreciation, impulse control, problem solving, consequential thinking, meta-cognition, assertiveness, empathy and mindfulness practices. ROPES centralizes on developing self-awareness to help navigate the resolution process in an appropriate and productive manner. (3) Choosing a theoretical methodology for working with people in jail, which complements ROPES, created a unique challenge.

AN ANSWER TO THE CHALLENGE

Natti Ronel, a criminal justice professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and his cohort, Dana Segev, introduced positive criminology as "a field within criminology that is concerned with responses to crime and interventions for those involved." They equate it as comparable to "positive psychology, research and theory in positive criminology [which] focuses on positive emotions, experiences and mechanisms that increase individuals' well-being and reduce their negative emotions, behaviors and attitudes." Positive criminology seeks to include a variety of theories, perceptions, models and assumptions about moral, social and law-enforcement responses to criminal behavior. (4)

According to the authors, positive psychology and positive criminology have shifted away from the notion of conceiving an individual as containing a set of problems that "need to be fixed." Rather, they promote a more holistic view, which acknowledges they might more effectively foster thriving and disengagement from distress, addiction, mental illness, crime or deviance by enhancing positive emotions and experiences, rather than focusing on reducing negative attributes. …

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