Changing Criminal Thinking: A Treatment Program.
Boyd Sharp has extensive wisdom from his 30 years of experience in programs for substance abuse and offender rehabilitation. In this practical guide, his wisdom and experience are shared in a manner that not only is consistent with research, but informative and interesting to read as well.
One of the most difficult tasks for a treatment professional in an offender treatment program is to maintain a positive pro-treatment attitude, which includes modeling pro-social behavior, demonstrating respect, expressing empathy and reflecting understanding. This is especially difficult in a treatment environment with clients who manipulate treatment professionals with distractions, such as using charm to compromise treatment standards, avoid treatment questions by providing evasive or confusing answers, and are tardy to or miss sessions. This is the treatment environment of high-risk offenders that is explained in Changing Criminal Thinking: A Treatment Program.
The practical discussion in Chapter 3 of how offenders think differently from pro-social people is especially useful. Based on research from Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow, basic differences are outlined. Offenders differ from pro-social people in many ways, including their response to punishment. Presumably, because of the absence of the ability to experience guilt, fear and remorse, punishment does not work to change an offender. Other differences are revealed through behavior, which stems from thinking errors. Offenders view themselves as good people, even victims, who minimize criminal behavior through a variety of rationalizations, including an inherent need for excitement, failure to distinguish between thinking and deeds, and avoidance of responsibility. Behaviors associated with these thinking errors inevitably lead to conflicts with the law and a reinforcement of an offender's tendency to keep secrets as the standard of the "criminal code."
Inevitably, thinking errors are employed as resistance during treatment. In Chapter 4, "Thinking Errors, Tactics and Masks," tactics are described as "behaviors and responses criminals use to avoid responsibility and accountability for their behavior. These are used to "defocus," to get attention off themselves and place it on others." These include "putdowns, telling staff what they want to hear, selective disclosure, lying, vagueness, minimizing, selective attention, anger and attack, and silence."
In Chapter 7, "Survival Skills for the Change Agent," three zones of interaction between a treatment provider and client are described. While in the white zone, an open, caring, but gullible professional is vulnerable to charm and manipulation commonly used by offenders to avoid the work involved with growth. The white zone is contrasted with the red zone, in which the treatment provider becomes cynical, overly suspicious and dismisses the client as subhuman. Between these perspectives, is the yellow zone, in which the treatment provider accepts clients as they are, avoids susceptibility by reducing expectations and engages with clients in a consistent, firm, yet friendly manner, which emphasizes pro-social behavior and thinking.
Despite well-conceived and strategically implemented treatment described in Changing Criminal Thinking, treatment providers struggle with a proportion of offender-clients whose behavior has baffling persistence and resistance to treatment. Sharp's book would have been more helpful if information related to other sources of treatment resistance had been included. These include research about genetic determinants of criminal behavior, as well as information regarding how behavior-based programs use medications to reduce cravings for alcohol or drugs, stabilize moods, reduce distraction and manage sex drive.
Overall, this is an excellent book for treatment professionals, as well as administrators (Appendix A provides program rules and guidelines and Appendix B outlines the daily schedule), in planning and implementing programs, and is a recommended text for criminal justice courses.
Kip Hillman, Psy.D., psychology administrator for the Illinois Department of Corrections Juvenile Division in Chicago.