Criminal Justice: Relevance of Correctional Programs

Correctional programs are structured frameworks of learning opportunities established and provided to offenders in a bid to alter their perspectives or change them to become better members of the society through non-indulgence and further non-participation in crime (Andrews, 1996). The correctional program initiatives adopts an approach which assumes that certain unmet needs of offenders are a reflection of  their criminal behavior, or directly relate to the possible causes of their inappropriate attitude within the society. The correctional program initiatives approach takes into cognizance that the said needs can be empirically identified and intervention can be appropriately applied. The intervention is provided to address the said needs thus mitigating or reducing factors that serve as catalyst for the needs and invariably diminish criminal intent or behavior.

In a critical review of a large number of international literatures on the issue of correctional programs effectiveness, four major themes have emerged. The first theme coined by Dr. A. Andrews of the Carlton University, Canada, emphasized a set of principles that are focused on effective correctional programs. Andrews points to the notion that recidivism is predictable and possesses the capacity to be influenced. His notion implies that ongoing correction initiatives which inculcate implemented systematic risks and needs assessment depict the most potential of mitigating or reducing criminal behavior or reoffending rates. Effective correctional programs in Andrews’s opinion, aimed to enhance major protective or strength elements and reduce core dynamic risk factors. His position on this issue was centered on the fact that community centric initiatives were more preferred over the residential institutional setting, and the most effective of correctional initiatives, which is family intervention could not usually applied or offered in institutional environments but within the natural settings of the home and the individuals’ communities. The second theme postulated by University of Brunswick’s Dr. P. Gendreau, who identified the types of interventions that aimed to reduce reoffending. His opinion on correctional initiatives was that the most appropriate manner in reducing offender recidivism was to apply appropriate cognitive behavioral treatment which embodied known principles of effective intervention. The third theme informs what empirical research can tell us on the impact of correctional initiatives. Dr. F. Losel of the University of Erlagen-Nurnberg in Germany contends that community based correctional initiatives tended to produce greater impact on offenders than programs delivered in custody. Losel reported that offender correction or treatment reduced recidivism by almost 10 percent. Other methodological studies however, have come to show or suggest that recidivism in offenders reduced by approximately 30 to 40 percent when correctional initiative were applied. Losel goes further to validate that an institution that is emotionally as well as socially responsive, norm oriented, controlling and well-structured can be significant to initiative interaction and the avoidance of recurrence of antisocial behaviors in offenders. Dr. J. McGuire of the University of Liverpool, highlighted the need-based correctional programs accreditation processes. McGuire suggested that a clear, evidence based theoretical framework or model that ensures that program processes and procedures identify all the elements linked to criminal activities and reoccurrence of such activities. Programs need to be inter-linked with chase management processes as well as guidelines that validate implementations within services. McGuire further denoted that correctional program materials should include evaluation and assessment measures, and bench marks for assessment of the programs overall in terms of long term and short term impacts.

This literature is developed on the evidence-based studies on effective correctional initiatives and programming within Canada, and is further based on other accompanying literatures that are largely centered on risks and needs evaluation or assessments, and evidence focused initiatives. This literature establishes a framework for performance measurement and correctional program evaluations.

Correctional Programs and Canada

In 2009, Correctional Service Canada finalized a significant assessment of the country’s key correctional initiatives. A majority of the schemes objectives was focused on violence prevention, substance abuse, domestic violence, sex offenders and maintenance programs. With the large amount of effort put into such an undertaking, critical lessons were established with respect to data collection and correlation, metrics development, engaging initiative management and enhanced findings interpretation as well as development of recommendations. The core outline for the assessment report was to examine correctional program effectiveness, within the borders of cost effectiveness and viability, and the continued importance or relevance of the program across a broad set of country wide correctional initiatives.

Findings from the assessment reports have been deemed effective in circumstances where the correctional initiative participation was directly focused on the reduction of recidivism. Correctional initiative effectiveness were observed to vary by program, intensity scale and demographic of offender population. Results of the Correctional Service of Canada reveal a consistency with evidence of previous and other bodies who have undertaken similar assessments and illustrate that the targeting of specific needs in individuals is a significant, relevant and effective methodology of reducing recidivism thus ensuring public safety (Correctional Service Canada, 2009).

Education, personal development and structured work programs have been the founding pillars and corner stones of correctional intervention (Lowenkamp et al. 1996). This framework for combating recidivism in offenders have be shown to significantly reduce criminal intent or behavior and simultaneously increase socially acceptable behaviors in corrective institutions. Over the years these initiatives have been a fixture of corrective within the North American nation of Canada. The goal and rationale behind the provision of corrective initiatives for offenders is directly associated to the amount as well as type of variation in interpersonal influences, personal relationships, environmental factors and situational determinants that offenders are tied to (Motiuk, 2001a). A large number of needs and crime related factors have been demonstrated to be predictors and catalyst of criminal behaviors. Such needs are alterable, and when and if changed can propagate significant reductions in criminal conduct. The conducting of comprehensive assessment on correctional initiatives is a significant element in addressing relapses in criminal conduct.

Cognitive behavioral centered initiatives, linked with structured social learning theory frameworks appear to effective and work best to reduce criminal intent relapses. Effective correctional programs are framed in such a manner that it provides a certain level of measure of the scale of progress and participation. A critical review of studies on correctional effectiveness schemes provide evidence of a number of factors than can equate to positive impacts in correction. Some of these factors include level of response, fidelity, selection outcome measures and program model (Motiuk, 2001a).

The response level of a correctional program deals with the setting in which such an initiative is delivered. This factor of impacting effectiveness in offenders is basically determined or influenced by program intensity, therapist and offender relationship, and motivational issues. The implementation factor in the effectiveness of correctional program considers elements such as site selection, staff recruitment, retention and training. Other elements that may affect the implementation factor could include the promotion of correctional initiatives within a particular setting; whether institution or community approach, referral criteria, evaluation, program credibility and integrity (Lowenkamp et al. 1996). Program fidelity or quality assurance are focused on the needs for program manuals to be regularly assessed in a bid to discover if the program has in any way deviated from its primary objective.

  While the notion of relapse or recidivism is the ultimate metric or index for the measurement of correctional initiative effectiveness, a wide array of other intermediate measures may be deemed significant. Changing scores and thresholds, consumer satisfaction as well as offence specific outcome measures are equally important metrics. Benchmarking issues encompass the following entities such as prediction, survival curves, time frame of follow up and base rates.

Effectiveness in Correctional Programs

When offenders are perceived and deemed as highly motivated to succeed in correctional schemes, then they represent prime candidates for reintegration into the general society. In most often cases, motivation serves as a crucial and critical element in parole or probation officer support in terms of program referral, progress, participation and ultimately early release. The ability and capacity to accurately measure the motivation within target offenders who are involved in program participation establishes a significant contribution to safe reintegration of these individuals with a low probability of recidivism (Motiuk, 2001a).

Institutional correction program participation often takes a large portion of case preparation time and can be a major source delay in eventual release. Successful program participation has been said and demonstrated to facilitate the likelihood of post release success. Allocations to initiatives that require needs to be identified or where programs seem inappropriate may provide very minute benefits and invariably may actually contribute to conditional release inadequacies or imminent failure (Lowenkamp et al. 1996). The completion of correctional programs establishes a critical platform for safer release of offenders. The optimum effects of corrective programs cannot be fully ascertained, however the completion of programs does provide significant information on issues of post release success hence offenders who are incapable of program completion impose a cost deficiency within the context of wasted resources and in drive deprivation of motivated offenders of programs opportunities to positively gain from initiatives (Lowenkamp et al. 1996). The assessment of program performance metrics, though might seemingly be perceived as critical in the decisions to facilitate and propagate early release is often times conceptualized as subjective and largely without void of guidelines. Assessments of outcome and treatment gains or associated program performance metrics aimed at increasing reintegration potential and post release adjustment cannot be overemphasized. Over the years the public has been primarily concerned with the way and manner corrections are consistently managed, in light of the fact that correctional services are viewed as being a significant element in societal safety. From stand point of the general public, recidivism is critical because it is a reflection of the likelihood of future crime and thus provides an indication of the effectiveness of correctional interventions and initiatives. From a correctional management stand point, poor community or institutional adjustments is significant due to its rule breaking or disruptive potential. Major focus has been undertaken over the last 25 years which have been aimed at identifying which correctional interventions effectively mitigate and reduce recidivism. This literature via the emergence of certain themes on the subject matter have converged to identify cognitive behavioral and corrective initiatives that reflected the most effective intervention schemes on the path of offenders. An indication of considerable heterogeneity in the effectiveness of correctional programs based on cognitive behavioral therapies. A pool of all other studies and literature on correctional intervention where cognitive behavioral approaches have been adopted have shown significant levels of effectiveness, though certain programs were not as effective as others, arguments have point to the fact that effective heterogeneity of correctional initiatives can be deduced from program integrity (Gendreau & Goggin, 1996). An analysis of the challenges associated with inappropriate social attitudes and criminal behavior as well as that of rehabilitation of offenders within Canada will show that it is imperative to deeply understand the relationship that exist between program integrity, program effectiveness and program implementation. An assessment of the intervening effects indicate that overall cognitive behavioral based interventions are more than likely to succeed in aid motivated offenders alter their ways.

Residential correctional facilities have increasingly become a defacto standard of reintegrating offenders into the general society. Previous studies and literatures on the theories that are focused on a large number of correctional interventions are indicative of the notion that treatment or interventions are not based on appropriate or sound theories and empirical research. Furthermore, the said interventions of these residential correctional programs lack the embodiment of principles of effective correctional initiatives. Individual principles of effective correctional interventions within the available literatures are often limited by data and correlated information as studied by the original researcher (Motiuk, 2001a).


The research on effectiveness and relevance of correctional intervention can significantly aid stakeholders and invariably, the general society in determining which correctional initiatives are more than likely to produce substantial impacts on recidivism, the ones with a higher tendency to impart negligible implications and those likely to pose iatrogenic effects. Funding challenges have been historically said to be a large factor to the hindrance of effective correctional intervention. Stakeholders’ ability to understand the elements of effective and relevant correctional intervention variable will quickly come to realize how to get optimal cost efficiency from allocated budgets to correctional initiatives. Studies over the years have shown that even well-structured and empirically oriented initiatives, in light of poorly delivered and implemented processes can impose further cost on stakeholders by further likelihoods of increase in recidivism, the problem it was deemed to tackle in the first place.

Investigations into the relationships between correctional program integrity, program relevance and program effectives will need to be ongoing and consistent as efforts such as these will society in the development of sound correctional interventions and initiatives. Studies have repeatedly elaborated that program integrity lead to program completion by offenders. Relevant, empirically structured and effective correctional programs should always take on a people centered approach and should not be focused on numbers. It is understandable that factors such as up to date referrals, state of the art residential correctional institutions and other secondary factors are deemed necessary in rehabilitating offenders, but organizations at all levels within Canada will need to be supportive and committed to new paradigms of correctional initiatives, else correctional programs remain stagnant in development of a crime free society.


  • Andrews, D. A. (1996). “Criminal recidivism is predictable and can be influenced: An update.” Forum on Corrections Research, 8(3).
  • Correctional Service Canada (2009). Evaluation Report: Correctional Service Canada’s Correctional Programs.
  • Gendreau, P. and Goggin, C. (1996). “Principles of effective correctional programming.” Forum on Corrections Research, 8(3).
  • Lösel Friedrich (1996). “Effective correctional programming: What empirical research tells us and what it doesn’t?” Forum on Corrections Research, 8(3).
  • Lowenkamp, C., Latessa, E & Smith, P (2006) does correctional program Quality really matter? The impact of adhering to the principles of Effective intervention.
  • McGuire, J. (2000). “Defining correctional programs.” Forum on Corrections Research, 12(2).
  • Motiuk, L.L.  (2001a). “Introduction.”  In Compendium 2000 on Effective Correctional Programming - Volume 1. (L.L. Motiuk & R.C. Serin, Eds.). Correctional Service of Canada: Ministry of Supply and Services. ISBN 0-662-31411-5.

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