inside prison

Theory of Correctional Rehabilitation

Effective Correctional Treatment or Correctional Programming

The Psychology of Criminal Conduct (PCC)

The psychology of criminal conduct (PCC) emerged as the brainchild of Canadian forensic researcher Don Andrews and his colleagues in the 1980s. It is based on seven essential criteria.

  1. It is Empirical

    The Psychology of Criminal Conduct ensures that the content it uses to make decisions in both practice and research is empirically-derived, or based on evidence. It accepts only rigourously-tested, reliable, and consistent data that possess surface validity, dynamic validity, and predictive validity. It also sets a minimum cutoff of accuracy, a pearson r of .20. This means that to claim a certain personality factor is causally related to the commission of crime, the experimental group possessing the factor must demonstrate 20% greater recidivism rates than the control group not possessing the factor. This kind of minimum level of accepted accuracy is common in psychological practice, but takes on a particular importance when used in assessing criminal risk levels of individuals. To get a sense of just some of the many assessment scales clinical psychologists use to assess criminogenic risk, see the assessments page

  2. It is Ethical

    Like standard psychological practice, the Psychology of Criminal Conduct adheres to several fundamental ethical principles. It supports the notions of integrity (proper administration, sound, rational, and empirically-based decisions), justice (fairness and equality for all individuals), non-maleficience (the desire not to harm others), beneficience (the desire to do good), and autonomy (individual rights).

  3. It is Practical

    The Psychology of Criminal Conduct provides human service delivery with essential content for treatment programs, risk assessment, and prison classification. Through empirical findings and rigourously-tested research, PCC enriches assessment tools with proper risk factors, ensuring a minimum degree of accuracy is reached before making a decision. It also identifies the treatment targets needed for human service delivery, such as antisocial thoughts, attitudes, peers, associations, or personality features. In prison-classification, it identifies those psychological and non-psychological features of offenders that are most likely to result in prison infractions and violation of rules, including escape attempts and staff-directed violence. It also ensures proper allocation of offenders to security levels most suited to them, savings taxpayers money while increasing public safety.

  4. It Identifies Criminal Covariates

    Years of forensic research have yielded consistent findings regarding the causal relationship between certain features and criminal predisposition. These are known as the Big-4 factors (antisocial attitudes, peers, history, and personality) and Big-8 factors (Big-4, plus leisure/recreation, family, employment, and substance abuse).

  5. It is based on Social Learning Theory

    Individuals learn behaviours either directly or vicariously. These skills can be either functional or dysfunctional, conducive to the law, or hostile to the law. Individuals develop definitions favourable or unfavourable to the law, and the choice to commit crime depends on a subjective, relative “weighting” of which actions are either favourable or unfavourable. Criminal behaviour is learned like any other behaviour, and, like other learning, includes the techniques, motivations and attitudes necessary to successfully learn that behaviour.

  6. It uses Explanatory Models

    Models abound in the PCC, from Novaco’s model of anger, to Farrington’s and Moffitt’s pathways to crime.

  7. It involves Individual Differences

    Keen interest into the uniqueness of individuals is a key componenet of the Psychology of Criminal Conduct, as treatment and rehabilitation, as well as risk assessment and classification, must be sensitive to specific life circumstances and personal characteristics. Different learning styles among individuals means different treatment methods; different ethnicities, ages, and gender mean different therapists, counsellors and/or treatment contexts. Whether one suffers from a mental illness or not is vital in allocating security, supervision, assessment, treatment and aftercare. There is no one single, homogenous group of offenders that are “different” from the rest of us.

An Alternative or Adjunct to Risk-Needs Approaches? The Good Lives Approach

Recently there has been greater focus on promoting a broader, more general treatment approach, called the “Good Lives” Model. This model criticizes existing risk-needs approaches as too narrow in reducing criminal behaviour. Individuals are seen by correctional agencies as a “package of risks” (McGuire 2005), and crime reduction is seen as being achieved from lowering those risks through the acquisition of specified skills. In a sense, offenders are thus “corrected,” and nothing more.

The Good Lives approach, however, argues that the standard risk-needs approach fails to acknowledge individuals’ sense of pursuit of self-interest and personal notions of achievement, possibly overemphasizing the simple need to “correct” offenders instead of guide them to more satisfying, goal-directed lives. Risk-needs also fails to recognize each offender’s unique and subjective view of his or her “ideal” life. The Good Lives approach argues that every offender has inherent difficulties and underdeveloped skills that, while causally related to criminal behaviour, may be unrealistic as treatment targets. In essence, while the majority of offenders on average will benefit from the broad nomothetic angle taken by risk-needs, many individuals will benefit more from an offender-specific, ideographic angle. For instance, as Ward (2002) notes, conceptions of good lives require a consideration of the offenders’ particular profile of capacities, preferences, commitments, and the possible opportunities available in the world” (526). Ward highlights findings by Maruna, who demonstrated that active, persisting criminals had very different conceptions of themselves compared to recently rehabilitated, ex-offenders. While persisters followed a “condemnation script,” which allowed offenders to see themselves as victims of some higher deterministic process, ex-offenders followed a “redemption script,” which allowed them to reinterpret their past behaviour into a personal narrative in which they could conceptualize their life-course progression from “bad” to “good.” In this way, they forged new identities that directly opposed their offending identities (523).



Home | Terms | Contact | Site Map


© All rights reserved.