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Behavioral Approaches to Treatment in Corrections - Requiem for a Panacea (From Effective Correctional Treatment, P 37-53, 1980, Robert R Ross and Paul Gendreau, ed. - See NCJ-73342)

NCJ Number
R R Ross; B McKay
Date Published
The reasons for the ready acceptance of operant behavioral techniques correctional settings in the 1960's and the 1970's are traced, and the efficacy of institutional and community-based correctional behavior modification programs are compared.
The enthusiastic acceptance of operant conditioning in corrections partly derived from its novelty in the correctional environment, as well as the similarity of its behavioral control techniques to traditional penological approaches. Operant conditioning's emphasis on consequences of types of behavior provided correctional administrators with empirical validation of their long-standing incentive programs. Originating in the mental health movement, the desirability of the operant conditioning treatment strategy in corrections stemmed from its apparent simplicity, its scientific methodology, and its provision of a data base for assessment of program effectiveness. Operant conditioning programs also promised to be cheap and efficient; and psychotherapists were eager to work with the most difficult inmates. A survey of published research on institutional and community-based operant conditioning programs in corrections revealed a considerable range of behavior modification programs being conducted in various correctional settings. An examination of the minority of adequately researched studies in institutional settings showed that the kinds of operant programs used in correctional institutions (token economy, programmed learning, and contingency management) were poor rehabilitative tools, but promising in terms of the institutional management of the offender. In contrast, community-based operant programs have shown some success in offender rehabilitation. All successful operant programs were characterized by voluntary participation of inmates, by encouragement of prosocial behaviors, and neutralization of the offender's peer group. It is concluded that behavior modification has considerable potential for corrections, but it is not a panacea. Footnotes, 4 tables, and 64 references are provided.