Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective Chapter 4: Linking Theories to Practice
CHAPTER 4: Linking Theories to Practice
1. Understand the role and importance of theory to inform how correctional practice
2. Understand the contribution of Canadian researchers to evidence-based correctional
3. Review selected approaches in the areas of assessment and treatment to better
understand why such approaches are popular in Canadian corrections and elsewhere.
4. Review contemporary challenges in order to understand future directions for
Theory continues to inform practice and that challenges from practice continue to
advance theory in a kind of symbiotic relationship. This notion of using research to
inform practice underpins the scientist–practitioner model (Douglas, Cox, and Webster
1999). Specifically, it asserts that practice must be informed by the empirical literature
and that clinicians must that practice must be informed by the empirical literature and that
clinicians must constantly strive to inform and improve practice. Delivery of effective
practice is an ethical requirement of professional psychology (Canadian Psychological
Increasingly, correctional practitioners are encouraged and required to ground their
work in evidence, hence the phrase evidence-based practice. Despite slight variations
across the provincial and federal systems, correctional agencies must account for their
methods in terms of efficacy and best-practice models. Partly this is driven by cost issues.
Wasting tax dollars on inefficient or ineffective services is problematic. However, it is
also driven by a long tradition of Canadian social scientists being world leaders in
corrections theory and practice.
Canadian researchers in academia and government continue to make important
contributions to correctional issues with a commitment to balancing rehabilitation
with public safety. Specifically:
1. Effective correctional practice must be informed by theory and evidence.
2. Punishment and deterrence leads to increases in crime and incarceration, not
3. Offender change and crime desistance is influenced by an increase in rewards for
4. The factors that inform crime desistance may be different than those that inform
5. For some offenders, restorative justice approaches are a viable alternative to getting
tough on crime.
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6. Using standardized classification measures yields lower levels of custody and lower
rates of escape but the application of risk assessment must consider ethnicity and
7. Provincial and federal corrections utilize standardized assessment approaches at
intake and throughout an offender’s sentence and supervision to target criminogenic
needs and develop a correctional plan.
8. Correctional programming that is cognitive-behavioural and skills-based is most
likely to result in decreases in reoffending.
9. Effective correctional programming reflects the principles of risk, need, and
10. Staff skills are fundamental to effective corrections.
11. Research regarding dynamic risk is increasingly utilized to inform risk management
we learned that criminal justice issues are of great concern to Canadians
and public opinion regarding corrections and parole is modest at best.
it has been noted that sensational media coverage invokes strong opinions
regarding crime and criminals.
ideology typically polarizes Canadians’ views regarding how to enhance
There are generally two sides in the debate over what is needed to reduce
crime and make Canada safer: greater rehabilitation or greater punishment.
in psychology we emphasize the importance of evidence to guide our
a) what evidence is there that unbridled rehabilitation or punishment will
yield better correctional outcomes (i.e., lower crime rates, lower
b) Do all offenders respond positively to rehabilitative programs?
c) Do all offenders require more severe punishment (i.e., longer
sentences) in order to “get it”?
there is a variety of theories posited to explain criminal behaviour, noting
that they have evolved over time, often integrating constructs from earlier
there is no single and agreed upon “winner,” social learning theories,
especially those with a heavy cognitive component, were presented as the
most clinically relevant.
The purpose of this chapter is to describe how this theoretical work is
reflected in contemporary correctional practice:
a) Essentially, why do we do the things we do, and in the manner we do
b) Underscoring correctional practice is the interplay between theory and
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c) In order to more clearly illustrate the issues, challenges, and present-
day approaches, we will describe contemporary practice across a range
of correctional and criminal justice activities.
d) Beginning with a review of the research on punishment models and
deterrence, mainly in terms of sentencing, we will consider the
evidence for its effectiveness.
e) We will then contrast the increasing interest in utilizing restorative
justice models with respect to philosophy and evidence, followed by a
review of the history and evolution of correctional programming
efforts in support of offender rehabilitation.
f) With respect to programming, recent research regarding challenges to
a risk-based model of understanding offender change will also be
highlighted to reflect the current debate in this literature.
g) specific applications such as custody classification will be reviewed
in some detail, as this is an important correctional activity often
overlooked in texts.
h) while custody classification is the method by which incarcerated
offenders are assigned to security level, Canadian assessment methods
typically consider treatment issues and the development of a
correctional plan throughout the offender’s sentence.
i) theory is embedded within the information considered in custody
classification and the process is more broadly referred to as offender
j) Offenders with different numbers and severities of criminal risk
factors may warrant assignment to different security levels or custody
placement and to different correctional programs in order to better
manage their risk of escape, institutional adjustment problems, and
k) This chapter will more fully describe the central importance of initial
offender assessment on numerous decisions made throughout offender
Our review of theory and practice then moves to risk assessment and risk
The goal of this chapter is to highlight Canadian contributions to best
practice and illustrate how theory is embedded within such practice, even
if it is refined through empirical research.
Finally, we will review recent research regarding crime desistance and
comment on how it might be incorporated into current practice.
2. Changing Criminal Behaviour:
over time there has been a shift away from individualized rehabilitation
programs to a greater reliance on punishment to deal with crime.
A utilitarian model suggests that people engage in criminal behaviour
because crime pays, and to reduce crime, its costs must increase.
Experts question if such a model applies equally to all offenders and refine
the model to assert that criminality can be decreased when the rewards for
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crime are reduced and the costs for crime are increased while the rewards
for prosocial behaviour are increased and the costs for prosocial behaviour
for several decades, the United States has focused mainly on increasing
individual costs to crime as a deterrent.
More recently this emphasis has been on evidence-based practice, where
empirical research is used to inform how to assess and intervene with
Paradoxically, the rehabilitative approach that focuses on increasing
rewards for prosocial behaviour of offenders, (championed in Canada and
later exported to the United States), now appears to be losing ground in
Canada despite empirical evidence that rehabilitation is more effective
than punishment at reducing crime
Multiple efforts are required to change offender behaviour and to decrease
different elements of the criminal justice system (courts, probation,
prisons, and parole) may have different foci despite an agreed-upon goal
of crime reduction.
the interplay between psychology and the courts is mainly academic,
psychology is much more influential in directly informing clinical practice
in prisons and community corrections.
3. Purposes of Sentencing:
According to section 718 of the Canadian Criminal Code, the fundamental
purposes of sentencing are to ensure respect for the law and the
maintenance of a just, peaceful, and safe society.
The expectation is that this is achieved through the imposition of
Other key purposes of sentencing are:
1. To denounce unlawful conduct
2. To remove offenders from society
3. To assist in rehabilitation of offenders
4. To provide reparation to victims
5. To promote a sense of responsibility in offenders
the most obvious goal of sentencing is to change the criminal behaviour of
individuals who come into contact with the courts.
Through the means of specific deterrence and general deterrence, the
expectation is that sanctions by the courts will reduce the criminal
behaviour of both the specific individual and the general population,
a central issue relates to distinguishing between the purpose and the
impact of sentencing.
If punishment and deterrence are the sole issues, then a longer sentence
would be preferred.
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This might find favour with many Canadians, especially those intolerant
of crime and criminals.
A longer sentence would have more merit if it could be demonstrated that
it will reduce likelihood of future crime.
Consistent with the issue of ideology, it can be proposed that there are
underlying assumptions with punishment and rehabilitation extremes.
The punishment extreme can be described as “hard,” although some may
prefer the word realistic.
Underlying this approach are the views that:
1. those who commit crimes are bad;
2. criminals are unlikely to change unless compelled to do so;
3. criminals need to be dealt with more strictly (to get their attention); and
4. the costs and consequences of committing crimes need to be made as
serious as possible.
In contrast, the rehabilitation extreme can be described as “soft,” although
some may prefer the word liberal.
Underlying this approach are the views that:
1. those who commit crimes are no different than others;
2. criminals have the
capacity to live decent lives and reform themselves; and
3. offenders have grown up in adverse surroundings and need to be
presented better opportunities
While sentencing may not be specifically informed by these viewpoints,
they nonetheless influence the public’s perception of the courts.
Sentencing and sanctions reflect the major themes of retribution,
incapacitation, and deterrence.
Retribution asserts that society has the right, when harmed, to harm the
This harm or punishment should correspond with the crime (an eye for an
From an administration of justice perspective, retribution is not necessarily
intended to address issues at the individual level.
Essentially, the commission of a crime warrants social retribution.
Incapacitation is the application of crime control by removing offenders’
ability to commit crimes by incarcerating them.
In terms of reducing future crimes, since the vast majority of offenders do
not die in prison but return to their communities, this may have limited
Incapacitation is an expensive method for reducing crime.
Deterrence is the application of punishment to influence behaviour.
Given the popularity of viewpoints emphasizing deterrence, researchers
have investigated the effectiveness of its application
deterrence is measured across four dimensions: certainty (likelihood of
legal punishment); celerity (the amount of time that elapses between an
offence being committed and an official sanction being imposed); severity
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(magnitude of the punishment); and scope (the relationship between types
of crime in statutes and types of punishment).
for punishment to be maximally effective, it must be
1. first unavoidable.
2. its application should immediately follow the target behaviour.
3. it should be very severe.
Even when these conditions are met, it is necessary to ensure that
individuals being punished cannot meet their goals through some
these dimensions are rarely applied in a systematic manner within the
criminal justice system, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of
punishment to change behaviour.
offenders often report committing crimes for which they were not caught,
as confirmed by the discrepancy between police-reported crime and arrests
there are often long delays between arrest and conviction, resulting in the
contentious two-for-one rule (one day on remand equals a day of a
sentence, if found guilty), now under review in Canada.
the effectiveness of deterrence in criminal justice applications, which
comes from six areas:
1. sentencing, in terms of crime statistics;
2. the relationship between imprisonment and crime rates;
3. the effects of enhanced punishers;
4. meta-analytic reviews of outcome studies;
5. self-report surveys;
6. research on the death penalty.
Research from the United Kingdom compares two-year reconviction data
by type of sentence (imprisonment, community service orders, probation
orders, and probation with additional requirements) while controlling for
risk level of the offender: the conclusion was that there was no difference
between immediate custody and community penalties on reconviction
Similar findings were reported in meta-analyses
These findings suggest that general deterrence does not reduce crime in
that longer sentences and incarceration are not highly related to
if specific deterrence is effective, there should be some association
between the activity of the courts for targeted crimes and the amount of
This does not appear to be the case: there was no effect on rates of
drinking and driving; there was no difference in crime rates when
considering white-collar crimes
In Canada there is considerable intolerance of these types of crimes
simply getting tougher on certain types of crime may not diminish the
rates of these crimes.
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more adult males are given Canadian federal sentences, but these
sentences have generally decreased in length over the past two decades -
the median provincial sentence has slightly increased
Another deterrence strategy has been described as punisher smarter.
In this approach, enhanced punishers such as boot camps, shock
incarceration, electronic surveillance, curfews, and intensive supervision
Various studies have disputed the effectiveness: boot camps in the United
States (no effect in reducing criminal behaviour); intensive supervision
(does not reduce crime unless it includes rehabilitation programming).
self-report surveys of offenders: teenagers experiencing an arrest had little
impact on their subsequent criminal behaviour; the majority of offenders,
whatever their level of seriousness, were not arrested;.
Perhaps the most ultimate deterrence is the use of the death penalty:
among the 71 countries that still retain its use, “the most common political
justification is that it has a unique general deterrent capacity to save
further innocent lives or significantly reduce other capital offences”
In a 40-year review for the United Nations, comparing countries that
were abolitionist, retentionist, or users with moratorium, there was no
difference in frequency of capital crimes.
in comparisons between neighbouring states, with and without capital
punishment, there was no difference.
In Texas, arguably the state with the highest rate of capital
punishment, there was no relationship between the execution rate and
the murder rate;
higher execution rates did not yield a lower murder rate.
Thus commission of crimes, including capital offences, is not influenced
by punishment and deterrence.
Explanations for why punishment is ineffective include perceived risk of
(non)arrest and the fact that criminal behaviour is dominated by “here and
Prior to committing an offence, most individuals are preoccupied with the
implementation of the act, rather than deliberating on the consequences.
4. The Canadian Picture:
Since much of the data reviewed regarding the effect of punishment on
crime rates is from other countries, it is worth providing a Canadian
context for consideration.
the link between punishment and deterrence lacks empirical support.
overall decreases in crime rates might be misinterpreted as indicating the
effectiveness of deterrence, but it is unclear that this is the preferred
Compared to other countries, Canada’s crime rate is relatively low, but
there is still a push for tougher sentences.
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the police-reported crime rate decreased from 1981 to 2007 (except for a
blip in 1990–92).
Concurrently, the overall rate of juveniles and adults charged decreased,
although there were slight variations for certain groups (juvenile girls are
more involved in crime) and types of crime (property crime is on the rise).
Canada’s incarceration rate has decreased over the past two decades.
Not only are the rates higher, but when combining crime categories and
tracking changes over time, there are noticeable differences
Canada’s situation is generally better than that in other countries in terms
of rates for different types of crime.
recent years have seen a call in Canada for getting tougher on crime in
order to enhance public safety
this call from politicians and victims groups comes despite evidence
disputing the effectiveness of such policies in decreasing crime.
A question that arises is whether there are alternate sentencing approaches,
less punitive that might be more effective in decreasing crime, at least for
Restorative justice is a model that fits such a niche and although it has
been utilized for more than two decades, it has increased in popularity in
Numerous countries have adopted restorative techniques, including
Canada, England, Australia, Scotland, New Zealand, Norway, the United
States, Japan, and several European countries
5. Restorative Justice:
Although a universally accepted definition has yet to be established, a
major tenet of restorative justice (RJ) is that “crime is a wound, justice
should be healing”
Restorative justice responds to a criminal act by putting the emphasis on
the wrong done to a person as well as the wrong done to the community.
It recognizes that crime is both a violation of relationships between
specific people and an offence against everyone—the state.
It is not simply that crime is a violation of law
RJ emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders, and communities
caused or revealed by criminal behaviour, and is seen as a viable third
alternative to the traditional rehabilitation versus retribution debate
proponents of restorative justice, many with affiliations to such groups as
the Mennonites, argue for a path of healing that attends to the needs of
both victims and offenders.
RJ is not simply an approach to “be soft on crime”; it emphasizes
accountability by the offender and recognition of the harm they have
Other research highlights this transformation by the offender as a critical
component in their eventual desistance of criminal behaviour.
Key elements of restorative justice include:
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1. Identifying and taking steps to repair harm
2. Involving all stakeholders
3. Transforming the traditional relationship between communities and
their governments in responding to crime
Restorative justice programs involve the voluntary participation of the
victim of a crime, the offender, and, ideally, members of the community in
The goal is to “restore” the relationship, fix the damage that has been
done, and prevent further crimes from occurring.
Restorative justice requires wrongdoers to recognize the harm they have
caused, to accept responsibility for their actions, and to be actively
involved in improving the situation.
Wrongdoers must make reparation to victims, themselves, and the
RJ initiatives can occur at different entry points and by different agents:
police at precharge; the Crown at postcharge; the courts at presentence;
corrections at postsentence; and parole at prerevocation
Embedded within these elements are key values that underlie the various
approaches of restorative justice:
1. Encounter: Create opportunities for victims, offenders, and
community members who want to do so to meet and discuss the
crime and its aftermath.
2. Amends: Expect offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have
3. Reintegration: Seek to restore victims and offenders to whole,
contributing members of society (the goal is not to return them to
their pre-crime state).
4. Inclusion: Provide opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific
crime to participate in its resolution.
Types of approaches include:
1. Victim offender mediation: Increasingly, this is described as
conferencing because mediation implies parties who are on
somewhat equal ground seeking a settlement. This is not the case
with victims and offenders, where one party has usually wronged
another. Conferencing has also been referred to as circles, consistent
with Aboriginal culture, and has been used in sentencing and parole
2. Victim assistance: Various criminal justice departments provide
victim services. A good source for information is the public safety
portal, which provides sites for provincial and federal assistance
(www.safecanada.ca/link_e.asp?category=2&topic= 25). The courts,
correctional agencies, and parole boards provide information and
services to victims. Admittedly, much of this work involves assisting
victims to be aware of their legal rights regarding representation and
notification, and assisting them, should they choose, to provide
information to decision makers regarding their experiences.
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3. Ex-offender assistance: victim assistance has overshadowed a long
tradition of the National Volunteers Association (www.csc-
scc.gc.ca/text/benevols/vols/2-eng.shtml) and its community
agencies, such as the Elizabeth Fry Society, St. Leonard’s Society,
and others providing support and assistance to offenders. This work
often begins while the offender is incarcerated and continues,
through an aftercare model, to include assistance with reintegration
to the community. Similar to recent work in the Unites States called
offender re-entry, this assistance involves rehabilitative
programming (e.g., addictions), support in returning to a community
that may have changed markedly during the time of the offender’s
incarceration, and assistance with accommodation and employment.
4. Restitution: This involves financial compensation to the victim by
the offender for loss related to their victimization. Typically, the
courts assign this amount; however, in RJ models it involves
discussion among all parties. The compensation can include direct or
tangible (i.e., repairing a broken door) costs and indirect or
intangible (i.e., suffering) costs.
5. Community service: Sometimes as an alternative to incarceration
and perhaps as part of a probation order, the offender is required to
complete some sort of community service (i.e., provide labour for
community projects) to make amends.
Both federal and provincial corrections agencies provide services to
victims, including notification, as does the National Parole Board.
Moreover, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has a restorative
justice portfolio (www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/rj/bckgrndr-eng.shtml) and an
annual award in recognition of individuals who contribute to restorative
issues in Canada.
CSC’s description is that “Restorative justice is a non-adversarial, non-
retributive approach to justice that emphasizes healing in victims,
meaningful accountability of offenders, and the involvement of citizens in
creating healthier, safer communities . . . It strives to provide support and
opportunities for voluntary participation and communication between
those affected—victims, offenders, and community—to encourage
accountability, reparation, and movement towards understanding, feelings
of satisfaction, healing and closure”
Does Restorative Justice Work?
it is necessary to clarify what is meant by “work.”
the gold standard of effectiveness is the reduction of future crime, as
evidenced by lowered recidivism rates for offenders who participate in RJ
RJ is voluntary, so there may be a selection bias (i.e., only motivated or
less serious offenders participate)
not all RJ approaches are comparable and most of the evaluation research
has been restricted to victim offender mediation approaches.
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how realistic it may be for a pre-trial intervention to reduce reoffending
post-release if the RJ approach has not been reinforced over the time of
the offender’s incarceration or period of community supervision.
RJ evaluation research typically incorporates multiple indices of success,
including: Victim satisfaction, Offender satisfaction, Restitution
compliance, and Recidivism
There are two predominant approaches to evaluating research in
1. involves assessing a specific program or a few distinct programs
2. Another preferred strategy is to aggregate across all identified studies
using meta-analysis: a major finding in one study was that client
satisfaction increased for those who had participated in the
Collaborative Justice Project, and there was a small reduction in
recidivism over a three-year follow-up; the meta-analysis completed
by Latimer, Dowden, and Muise (2005) is the most comprehensive on
the topic of the effectiveness of RJ models where restorative justice
programs show positive effects across a range of dependent measures
(the greatest effect relates to restitution compliance and the weakest
effect relates to recidivism) and conclude that RJ programs may
complement rehabilitation programs and when utilized in conjunction
may further reduce reoffending.
6. Offender Rehabilitation:
The evolution of correctional programming has moved researchers from
views of pessimism regarding the efficacy of direct intervention with
offenders with the aim of reducing their future reoffending, to one of
Martinson’s (1974) pessimistic review of the extant outcome data noting
the ineffectiveness of rehabilitation: as a “watershed event” - stated that
results “give us very little reason to hope that we have in fact found a sure
way of reducing recidivism through rehabilitation.”
a compilation of more favourable studies, was unsuccessful in stemming
Martinson (1979) later recanted, stating that some interventions were
beneficial, others were not, and some were downright harmful.
an historical context in how offender programming has changed due to
Three decades ago: counselling was mainly conducted by
psychologists and some chaplains also offered counselling.
and forensic psychology was in its infancy, the treatment was related
to attenuating psychological symptoms (e.g., anxiety, self-esteem,
It was expected that improved psychological functioning would yield
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Recently, counselling in the CSC utilizes para-professionals (parole
and program staff with B.A. degrees and specialized training), and
psychologists often provide oversight for certain types of criminals
(e.g., sex offender, domestic violence) or higher intensity programs.
psychologists spend increasing amounts of time completing risk
Provincial corrections and other countries are reviewing similar
considerations to determine the preferred role for psychologists.
This comes at a time of increasing operational challenges and it is
becoming increasing popular to utilize para-professionals to provide
structured, skills-based correctional programming to offenders
in community corrections, with the exception of specialized
counselling by psychologists, most rehabilitation programming and
aftercare is provided by para-professionals.
a majority of these programs, whether prison-based or in the
community, strive to deliver services consistent with an evidence-
based model (address criminogenic needs).
There remains considerable variability regarding staff skills, program
intensity, and degree of oversight.
these factors greatly influence the effectiveness of correctional
Self-help groups and therapeutic communities are becoming less
popular given the improved efficacy of skills-based programs that
focus on risk factors for criminality
Off-the-shelf skills-based programs are increasingly becoming
available for a variety of treatment targets (i.e., anger, problem
solving, and substance abuse) and populations (i.e., juveniles, adults,
the current approach to correctional programming is to target and
reduce criminogenic needs using a cognitive-behavioural model that
assists offenders to understand high-risk situations and increases skills
to become prosocial.
Substantial published research across multiple countries and
correctional agencies has demonstrated that such correctional
programming reduces reoffending
rehabilitation programs are a critical strategy utilized by correctional
agencies to reduce recidivism, thereby enhancing public safety.
This is particularly important in federal corrections, where offenders
are convicted for more serious crimes and receive longer sentences,
thereby raising concern regarding their safe return to the community at
the end of their sentence.
What Does an Effective Program Look Like?
the preferred contemporary approach to correctional programming has the
primary principles typically referred to as risk, need, andesponsivity
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Risk refers to the requirement to provide higher intensity programming to
higher risk offenders.
The need to increase program dosage can be addressed by more
frequent sessions (i.e., every day versus once weekly), a longer
program (i.e., three months versus six weeks), or some com