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Correctional counseling is a multifaceted position wherein individuals provide a variety of forms of support to individuals currently incarcerated or on parole/probation for committing a crime. Research on correctional counseling looks at the most common theories on criminal justice and applies them to the psychology of working with rehabilitation in the correctional setting.
Within the prison system, for example, corrections counselors monitor the behavior of inmates to determine if they are making satisfactory progress towards their rehabilitation. This might involve any of the following:
- Providing access to addiction treatment programs.
- Classes to help them earn their GED.
- Job training to increase their chances of employment upon release.
- Psychological support for individuals who are not making sufficient progress or who are acting out or violating the rules and expectations placed upon them as an inmate.
The goal of correctional counseling is to reduce the likelihood that a person will once again find themselves incarcerated. If they are able to address the underlying factors that led to their criminal activity - such as a drug addiction, the inability to find gainful employment, etc. - then it is hoped that they can avoid a repeat of the results of said actions. In a psychological and sociological context, the goal of corrections counseling is to help offenders understand how their actions were in violation of social norms and expectations; their willingness to break the law demonstrates how their understanding of norms is in contrast with those of society. By helping inmates to understand these psychological and sociological concepts, corrections counselors can help reduce the likelihood that an offender will violate these norms again, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will return to incarceration.
Throughout the course of the twentieth century, the philosophical basis of incarceration evolved significantly. The two poles between which this ideological pendulum typically swings include retribution and rehabilitation through correctional counseling. For several decades in the mid-twentieth century, the notion of rehabilitative incarceration prevailed, and methods ranging from correctional counseling to vocational training were offered to prisoners in many correctional facilities.
However, as crime rates increased precipitously in the late 1970s and 1980s, the public's support for correctional counseling diminished. Politicians seeking to portray themselves as "tough on crime" eliminated many rehabilitation-oriented programs and sentencing options. In addition, as the prison population increased to unprecedented levels, non-essential rehabilitation components were jettisoned in favor of basic needs and infrastructural maintenance and improvements in many jurisdictions.
As such, it seems that the concept of retribution through correctional counseling now prevails as the philosophical basis of incarceration. However, in an ideal world, incarceration would address both of these objectives.
Without correctional counseling, The factors that lead individuals to engage in criminal activity are myriad, complex, and diverse. They can generally be divided into two broad categories, namely, internal and external factors. Throughout the twentieth century, the internal factors that impact crime have been studied extensively. Precipitating internal factors include life experiences, socioeconomic status, substance abuse, emotional disturbance, and poor coping strategies. Once dismissed as overly determinative, recent studies have also begun to assess biological risk factors in criminal activity.
Some of the external factors that can precipitate crime include socioeconomic status, academic and vocational opportunities, a familial and/or community environment in which criminal activity is accepted and normalized, exposure to criminal activity, and sociocultural marginalization. Also included in this category are situational factors, which can sometimes impact an individual's propensity to commit crime. For example, dire financial need or an unusual opportunity may both compel typically law-abiding individuals to commit crimes. However, situational factors are generally regarded as less influential than the other internal and external risk factors enumerated. The nexus of internal, external, and situational factors can determine, to a large degree, one's propensity to engage in criminal activity.
Assessing what steps can be taken for correctional mental health professionals to gauge the success of their clinical interventions, it is evident that evaluation can take place on both an individual and institutional level. On the individual level, mental health professionals can measure improvements in the inmate based on behavioral changes and reductions in violent actions. In addition, psychologists would be able to use drug tests to determine if addiction counseling is efficient.
Although individual measures provide professionals with a general idea of how their interventions are working, perhaps the best indication of the efficacy of interventions would be analysis of data on an institutional level. For instance, if violence were a pervasive issue at the institution and interventions were undertaken to reduce violence in the inmate population, an overall decrease in violence among inmates would be an indication that intervention was successful. Further, mental health professionals could choose to analyze the recidivism rates of released offenders that had been treated in the prison. Higher recidivism rates would indicate that the interventions of the staff had not been effective; lower rates would indicate success. Although there are no direct measures in this case, there are a number of statistics that can be extrapolated for correlation.