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New Approach To Helping Prisoners Stop Re-Offending

UC Researcher Looks At New Approach To Helping Prisoners Stop Re-Offending

November 20, 2012

New Zealand has the second highest rate of imprisonment out of 29 countries in the western world and about 25 percent of all offenders return to prison in the first year and about 52 percent return within five years.

A University of Canterbury (UC) BA intern researcher has been investigating a new approach offered by Christchurch’s Counselling Service for Prisoners Trust (CSP) to treat prisoners' underlying psychological problems, improving their psychological well-being and how it can be beneficial for the Department of Corrections, prisoners and the public.

Even though the Department of Corrections offers a number of rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to reduce re-offending, the high rates of imprisonment and re-offending still remain a pressing problem for the New Zealand criminal justice system, UC intern researcher Natalia Tropotova said today.

According to the Ministry of Health’s 2010 report, effective rehabilitation programmes should be client-focused and tend to address prisoners’ psychological well-being (PWB), rather than simply predict their chances of re-offending.

However, the Department of Corrections continues to favour the ‘risk-management’ model, according to which reduction of re-offending is a number one priority in designing rehabilitation programmes, while prisoner’s needs are less important.

Tropotova said the Christchurch organisation CSP had been offering a different form of psychological counselling which treats prisoners’ underlying problems that may become a potential cause for re-offending.

``The key idea is that it is beneficial to deal with their psychological well-being and psychological needs. The focus is on long-term problems, such as poor pro-social behaviour, various forms of abuse, poor appreciation of authority, and psychological distress.

``It is believed that effective rehabilitation programmes need to enhance offenders’ capabilities in order to improve their overall psychological well-being, quality of life and accordingly reduce their chances of committing further crimes against the community.’’

She said 38 prisoners - nine women and 29 men - from Christchurch prisons participated in a quantitative study conducted by the CSP so they could analyse whether the one-to-one psychological counselling was effective in enhancing prisoners’ psychological well-being.

The findings of the study demonstrated overall benefit of the CSP’s programme in enhancing prisoners’ psychological well-being as well as treating individual problems, such as depression, anxiety, and damaging effect of past traumas, self-respect, trust, attitude towards authority and alcohol/drug use.

``The results of the research revealed that women, Maori and younger prisoners especially benefit from the CSP’s programme. The programme has demonstrated the benefit of the CSP’s counselling for the successful functioning of rehabilitation programmes operating within the Department of Corrections.

``Specifically, the CSP demonstrated its effectiveness in treating problems that were left behind by the previous rehabilitation programmes, such as alcohol and drug abuse and mental health issues. The CSP’s potential to address sensitive problems which are unlikely to be treated in the group therapies, showed that the CSP may be also considered as a preparatory course for the prisoners who struggle to undertake group therapies.’’

In terms of the public interest in her research, the study demonstrated that the CSP’s approach to the research problems had important implications for understanding the factors that should be included in rehabilitation programmes, aimed at addressing prisoners’ psychological needs and treating possible causes of re-offending, which was essential for public safety.



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