Cognitive-Behavioral Probation Programs 

The most recent research about how particular problem areas in a person’s life lead to criminal activity strongly suggests that cognitive-behavioral programs have the most significant outcomes in criminal justice.  Examples of problem areas include antisocial attitudes, poor problem solving or coping skills, and negative peer associations.

Cognitive programming is a style of service delivery applicable to differing groups of offenders charged with various types of offenses.  Cognitive programs are designed to bring about change by challenging offenders and changing the cognitive processes (thoughts, beliefs and attitudes) that precede criminal behavior. Cognitive programs are designed for offenders in specialized programs such as DUI or those with medium to medium-high risk levels.  The central components are group meetings that follow lesson plans developed to have an impact on particular offender needs. Groups last for various lengths of time depending upon the offenders’ presenting issues.

There are four major types of cognitive programs in criminal justice, all of which explore, examine and challenge the thought processes that precede behavior.  The four types are as follows:

  1. Cognitive restructuring: addresses character deficits, including such antisocial characteristics as manipulation, selfishness, irresponsibility and impulsiveness.
  2. Cognitive skill development: promotes such skills as problem solving and conflict management.
  3. Life skill enhancement: develops skills related to job seeking and money management.
  4. Behavioral programs: use positive and negative reinforcements to reshape behavior through role playing, practice, homework, feedback, etc.
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