6. Straight Thinking

Beginning in the 2000/2001 annual report the Department of Corrections begun to publicly report effect sizes for a number of its rehabilitation programmes, including the Straight Thinking programme (Department of Corrections, 2001b, pp 31-32). This practice continued in the 2001/2002 annual report (Department of Corrections, 2002, pp 36-37) and is expected to also be in the 2002/2003 annual report. The Department uses the term “Rehabilitation Quotient” (RQ) for effect size. The RQ compares a treatment group against a control group matched for age, ethnicity and risk. It is computed from the respective difference between the control and treatment group in either re-conviction rates or re-imprisonment rates. As only two years of results are available, the sample sizes remain small (exact sample sizes are not reported), and follow-up periods relatively short. In addition, the 2001/2002 annual report notes that the RQ results relate to a period of significant restructuring within the Department of Corrections (Department of Corrections, 2002). For this reason, the previously reviewed effectiveness figures for psychological treatment (Psychological Service evaluation studies) and the specialist sex offender treatment programmes (Kia Marama and Te Piriti studies) should be considered more reliable.

Both the 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 annual reports do however provide RQ figures for the Straight Thinking programme, which has not previously been evaluated in terms of recidivism outcome. Straight Thinking is a cognitive skills programme similar in content and delivery to the Canadian “Cognitive Skills Program” (see Motiuk & Serin (2001) for a brief review). It is designed to improve the critical reasoning skills, and change the beliefs and behaviour of offenders. Straight Thinking is delivered to groups of offenders in the community and prison. It is approximately 70 hours in duration and is non-specific to offender types (i.e. it does not focus on any one specific type of offence such as violence or sexual offending). 2000/2001 reported effect sizes (RQ’s) for Straight Thinking are r=+.056 when delivered in prison and r=+.009 when delivered in the community. RQ’s for the 2001/2002 year are reported only for prison based Straight Thinking graduates (r=+.01). These very modest effect sizes, while in a positive direction did not reach statistical significance. It should also be noted that these effect size calculations exclude offenders who started but did not complete the programme (who were in fact re-imprisoned at a higher rate than the control group (Department of Corrections, 2002)).

Of all the interventions reviewed in this paper, the Straight Thinking programme would appear to adhere least to the established principles of effective programming, as espoused by authors such as Andrews (2001) and McGuire (2002). For example, it does not focus on specific criminogenic needs, has no after care or structured follow-up, and gives minimal attention to relapse prevention (and in that regard it is not surprising that only a very modest reduction in recidivism is obtained). It is anticipated that over time the accuracy of RQ reporting for Straight Thinking will increase with larger sample sizes and lengthier periods of follow-up. However, it is clearly important to prevent any further erosion of programme integrity (especially in terms of adherence to established ‘what works’ principles) if significant positive effect sizes are to be maintained and achieved in the future. International research has demonstrated that cognitive skills programmes have at best a modest effective on recidivism and at worse, may actually increase recidivism (see for example, Falshaw, Friendship, Travers & Nugent, 2003).