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Cognitive-behavioral therapy for offenders

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Health Factors

Decision Makers

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps clients discover and change the thought processes that lead to maladaptive behavior (). Programs for offenders emphasize personal accountability and help offenders understand the thoughts and choices that led to their crimes. Offenders learn alternative behaviors and thought processes (Campbell-Lipsey 2007).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced crime

  • Reduced recidivism

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) reduces recidivism among youth and adults (Campbell-Lipsey 2007, ). Effects are strongest for offenders with a high risk of recidivism (Campbell-Lipsey 2007).

CBT can also reduce recidivism by persons who abuse substances () and sex offenders (Schmucker 2008). For serious juvenile offenders, CBT is particularly effective at reducing the recurrence of serious crimes (Campbell-Garrido 2007).

The most effective programs usually include anger management and interpersonal skills training. Training providers in CBT, closely monitoring programs, and ensuring program fidelity also result in stronger outcomes (Campbell-Lipsey 2007).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Six CBT programs are widely used in the US criminal justice system: Aggression Replacement Training (ART), Criminal Conduct and Substance Abuse Treatment-Strategies for Self-Improvement and Change (SSC), Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT), Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R&R and R&R2), and Thinking for a Change (T4C). Of these, MRT and R&R are the most extensively evaluated (US DOJ-CBT).

Implementation Resources

MRT - Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT).

R&R - Ross RR, Fabiano E, Ross RD. The reasoning & rehabilitation (R&R) program. Ottawa, CAN: Cognitive Centre of Canada.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Campbell-Garrido 2007 - Garrido V, Morales LA. Serious (violent or chronic) juvenile offenders: A systematic review of treatment effectiveness in secure corrections. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2007:7.

Wilson 2005* - Wilson DB, Bouffard LA, Mackenzie DL. A quantitative review of structured, group-oriented, cognitive-behavioral programs for offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior. 2005;32(2):172–204.

McMurran 2007* - McMurran M. What works in substance misuse treatments for offenders? Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health. 2007;17(4):225–33.

Schmucker 2008 - Schmucker M, Lösel F. Does sexual offender treatment work? A systematic review of outcome evaluations. Psicothema. 2008;20(1):10–9.

Campbell-Lipsey 2007 - Lipsey MW, Landenberger NA, Wilson SJ. Effects of cognitive-behavioral programs for criminal offenders. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2007:6.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US DOJ-CBT - Thigpen ML, Keiser GM. Cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT): A review and discussion for corrections professionals. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice (US DOJ), National Institute of Corrections (NICIC); 2007.

Date Last Updated

Apr 12, 2013