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Influences on Criminal Behavior

The role of community corrections practitioners is evolving (Lutze, 2014). Whereas community corrections officers are most known for their role in monitoring and enforcing conditions of supervision, they also are responsible for assessing individuals on supervision and helping them access services that will address their identified needs, help change behavior, and reduce their likelihood of recidivating. The role of community corrections officers as change agents is continuing to evolve, and officers in many jurisdictions are now being required to be more proactive in helping to manage the change process of the individuals they supervise. They must enhance their working relationship with the individuals on their caseload, using cognitive behavioral interventions within their regular interactions with offenders, and taking an active role in providing services to offenders to help them learn new skills.

Barbara Broderick, Chief Adult Probation Officer, Maricopa County Adult Probation Department

Barbara Broderick describes the competencies of an effective probation officer.


Community Corrections staff must be able to assess readiness for behavior change in the offenders they supervise. Change is a process defined by the stages depicted in the graphic below.


Stages of Change

stages of change graphic 1) Precontemplation Stage

"It isn't that we can't see the solution. It is that we can't see the problem"

Precontemplators usually show up in therapy because of pressures from others… spouses, employers, parents, and courts… Resist change. When their problem comes up, they change the topic of conversation. They place responsibility for their problems on factors such as genetic makeup, addition, family, society, destiny, the police, etc. They feel the situation is hopeless.

2) Contemplation Stage

"I want to stop feeling so stuck"

Contemplators acknowledge that they have a problem and begin to think about solving it. Contemplators struggle to understand their problems, to see its causes, and wonder about possible solutions. Many contemplators have indefinite plans to take action within the next few months.

"You know your destination, and even how to get there, but you are not ready to go yet"

It is not uncommon for contemplators to tell themselves that some day they are going to change. When contemplators transition to the preparation stage of change, their thinking is clearly marked by two changes. First, they begin to think more about the future than the past.

The end of contemplation stage is a time of anticipation, activity, anxiety, and excitement.

3) Preparation Stage

Most people in the preparation stage are planning to take action and are making the final adjustments before they begin to change their behavior. Have not yet resolved their ambivalence. Still need a little convincing.

4) Action Stage

Stage where people overtly modify their behavior and their surroundings. Make the move for which they have been preparing. Requires the greatest commitment of time and energy.

Change is more visible to others.

5) Maintenance Stage

Change never ends with action. Without a strong commitment to maintenance, there will surely be relapse, usually to precontemplation or contemplation stage.

Most successful self-changers go through the stages three or four times before they make it through the cycle of change without at least one slip. Most will return to the contemplation stage of change. Slips give us the opportunity to learn.

Taken from: Prochaska, J. O. & Di Clemente, C. C., (1982). Transtheoretical therapy: Toward a more integrative model of change. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 19(3), 276-288. Figure 2, p. 283.

Erika Preuitt, Adult Services Division Director, Department of Community Justice, Multnomah County, OR

Ericka Preuitt discusses the role of the probation officer as a change agent.

In this vignette you will observe a community supervision officer interacting with a probationer working towards the development of a case supervision plan.

The banner displayed throughout the video depicts demonstrated communication skills

As the evolution of community corrections practice from more a law enforcement driven approach to a more behavioral management approach (Taxman, Shepardson, & Byrne, 2004) gains more traction around the nation, community corrections leaders are looking for a different type of knowledge base and skill set in their employees. Leaders involved in APPA indicate they often find themselves hiring individuals with social work, psychology, sociology and other similar behavioral science degrees over individuals with criminal justice degrees. Why? Among the reasons are because those with strict criminal justice degrees are typically not getting as much exposure to the behavioral sciences within their degree programs. Therefore, the concepts and understanding of human behavior and motivation to change are less honed in criminal justice degree graduates. They also are not familiar with the change aspect of the work of community corrections and are more sensitized to the law enforcement side of the corrections field. As a result, agencies have to spend more time and allocate more resources to provide more extensive training and professional development once some of the criminal justice degree graduates are hired, which can be costly to agencies. Colleges and universities should incorporate more behavioral science courses into their criminal justice degree programs.

In general, community corrections leaders are interested in entry-level workers being educated about the expanded role of community corrections professionals as enforcers and as change agents. They want them to have an understanding of behavioral theories, theories of motivation, and the psychology of criminal conduct. They also want individuals to have exposure to the effect that trauma, substance abuse, brain impairment, and mental health issues have on the justice-involved population. While they don’t expect that undergraduates will have in-depth knowledge or exposure to effective interventions, they do feel they should be provided general knowledge about effective interventions with offenders, including knowledge about differential interventions for special offender populations (e.g., domestic violence, sex offenders, female offenders) as well as know how to locate resources and interpret research to determine what may be effective.