Reviews that examine the effectiveness of correctional interventions consistently report that cognitive-behavioral programs (CBP) are effective at reducing recidivism. As the name implies, cognitive-behavioral programming integrates the principles of cognitive theory and behavioral theory. In practice, attempts are made to change both unwanted behaviors and the internal thought processes that lead to them.
According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (NACBT), CBP refers to “a classification of therapies with similarities” more so than a “distinct therapeutic technique.” The following characteristics are among those found in CBP programs:
- Based on the premise that thoughts cause feelings and behaviors. Thought processes can change, and therefore feelings and behaviors can also change.
- Based on time-limited and relatively brief sessions.
- Highly structured. Each group session has a specific agenda and focus.
- Partly educational. It is designed to help offenders/juveniles learn new ways of thinking and behaving. It helps offenders/juveniles uncover distortions in thinking and irrational assumptions about situations that can lead to inappropriate behavior.
- Mandated that offenders/juveniles do homework as a way to practice and reinforce newly acquired skills and techniques.
NCTI curricula and philosophy are inclusive of every common trait identified by the NACBT.
Over the past few decades, CBP has been used to treat a wide variety of problems and disorders, including substance abuse and criminal conduct. In a review of CBP programs for criminal offenders/juveniles, Lipsey and his colleagues (2007) found that CBP programs have been used with adult offenders and juveniles, delivered in institutional and community settings, and administered independently or as part of a multi-component intervention. CBP programs used with criminal offenders/juveniles are designed to change criminal thinking and behavior while also providing the offender with problem solving, interpersonal and social skills that facilitate long-term pro-social behavior change.
Studies consistently show that CBP programs work. Pearson et al. (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of 69 studies that examined both CBP and behavioral interventions and found that CBP programs were effective at reducing recidivism. Wilson et al.’s (2005) meta-analysis of 20 studies and Aos et al.’s (2006) meta-analysis of 25 CBP programs both found positive program outcomes. Lipsey and his colleagues (2007) reported that, “several well conducted meta-analyses have identified CBP as a particularly effective intervention for reducing the recidivism of juveniles and adult offenders.” A meta-analysis of 58 studies, conducted by the NACBT, found that CBP programs on average cut one-year recidivism rates by 25%. Consistent with the principles of effective intervention, effects were greater for high-risk offenders/juveniles.