Best use of Psychological Service treatment resources

By Harry Love,
for Psychological Service,
Department of Corrections

Published, 1999

ISBN: 0 478 11318 8

Executive summary

Concentrating on likely re-offenders

The Psychological Service would contribute most to the Department of Corrections’ aim of reducing re-offending by concentrating treatment resources on offenders likely to be re-convicted. This report considers various traditional ways of deciding how treatment resources should be used, including the methods of authority, population numbers and demand, which are no longer useful, as well as allocation according to special needs, which is still used in some overseas jurisdictions.

A review of what is known about prevalence of reconviction suggests that between a quarter and a third of offenders are frequently reconvicted, and for serious offences. Since these offenders are committing a high proportion of all crime, changing their behaviour is likely to impact significantly on overall reoffending.

Identifying high-risk offenders

Identifying high-risk offenders is a prerequisite for treating them, so the report deals briefly with prediction techniques. The Psychological Service Prediction Rating Scale accurately predicts individual reconviction, and is a sound basis for initial decisions about use of treatment resources.

Data on the prevalence of high-risk offenders in prison and serving communitybased sentences shows around an equal number of high-risk offenders in both settings at any time.

Treatment settings

The report reviews how effective treatment for high-risk offenders is. It finds treatment based on cognitive-behavioural principles can reduce reconviction rates from 10 to 40 percent, compared with non-treated offenders.

It makes little difference to a treatment’s success whether it is provided in prison or a community setting, so long as it is based on cognitive-behavioural principles and delivered with integrity.

Treatment costs

By contrast, treatment costs may be related to setting. People in prison consent more readily to treatment and attend sessions more diligently than those serving community-based sentences. It is also easier to establish and maintain group therapy programmes in prisons.

It may, therefore, be more efficient to deliver psychological treatment to prisons than community corrections. But the cost question is a complex one and requires better data and more sophisticated analyses before conclusions can be drawn.

Special units

The report discusses special units for sex offenders against children, and violent offenders. These are exceptions from the rule of allocating treatment resources on the basis of high base and reconviction rates, because of the seriousness of the crimes and the availability of proven treatments. Further benefits of special units are noted.

Young offenders

Young offenders are considered separately because of their high offending rates, and to determine if early intervention can prevent their becoming more deeply involved with the criminal justice system.

In spite of their high offending rates, most young people soon stop offending. About 10 percent of young offenders become repetitive, serious offenders, highly likely to be reconvicted. By the time they come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections, they are already immersed in a life of crime and have the greatest probability of reconviction of all offenders.

Psychological treatment is effective with young people, but as currently delivered by the Psychological Service, less so than with older offenders. Overseas evidence is that programmes may be more effective if they involve people significant to the young offender.

Opportunities for development

Psychological variables associated with re-offending, and ways of assessing them, must be developed before re-conviction can be more accurately predicted. There is also a need to identify psychological variables for making treatment more effective. Psychological techniques for assessing these variables must be improved, as should psychological treatment techniques to modify them.

Other development areas include developing psychological techniques to increase consent and adherence to treatment.

Further treatment needs

The report comments on the need for psychological treatment to counter the negative effects of imprisonment, and the effects on Corrections staff of shrinking psychological treatment services to Public Prisons or Community Corrections. It also sees a need to provide access to psychological treatment for people remanded to prison.