Impact of Therapeutic Community Training on Knowledge and
Attitudes of Correctional Officers
Clark Atlanta University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Erika Marshall-StoryFulton County Reentry Program Manager, Office of the County Manager
Talpade M, Talpade C, and Marshall-Story E. (2012). Impact of Therapeutic Community Training on Knowledge
and Attitudes of Correctional Officers, International Journal of
Psychosocial Rehabilitation. Vol 17(1) 65-73
M. Talpade is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Clark Atlanta
University, Box 1603, Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA. 30314.
Email: email@example.com. The primary author is responsible for the
evaluating the training and the composition of this article. The author
also serves as the external evaluator for the Second Chance
Marshall-Story, the program manager of the Second Chance Demonstration
Project, is responsible for managing and executing grant related
activities, and was a part of the grant writing team. This
project is funded by the BJA federal award number 2010-CZ-BX-0104.
Talpade, an undergraduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology,
served as the research associate and was responsible for data
collection, coding, input, and preliminary analyses.
All correspondence regarding this article should be directed to the first author.
Communities (TCs) have demonstrated success in providing inmates with a
second chance in life. This study is an evaluation of TC training of
correctional officers. A mixed methods strategy was employed, informed
by the attribution theory and the self-determination theory, whereby it
is assumed that changing the knowledge and attitudes of the officers
would have a positive effect on the motivation of the inmates. In this
study, the impact of the training on the knowledge gained and attitudes
changed were gauged. A total of 63 officers received TC training.
Results of an open ended survey were coded into themes. Additionally,
self efficacy of the officers was assessed quantitatively, regarding
their use of TC concepts. Validation strategies included inmate
responses about treatment by the officers. Results indicated that
officers recognized the need for a cognitive shift about authority in
the jail and in the attitudes toward the inmates. Validation by the
inmates as documented by their positive beliefs about the officers,
further confirmed this shift in knowledge and attitudes.
Implications for positive social change, by reducing recidivism,
rehabilitating inmates into becoming productive members of the
community and fostering the growth of safer communities are imminent.
Keywords: therapeutic community training, correctional officers, inmates, second chance, attitudes.
Background and Significance
concept of the Therapeutic Community (TC) is in strong contrast to the
‘nothing works’ belief about rehabilitation in correctional
settings. Wexler (1995) traces the history of the TC which has
its roots in early American religious groups. These groups used
concepts of self help and tools such as mutual criticism and penance to
help rehabilitate those who shared their wrongdoing and experiences
with the community. Initial attempts of this group founded in 1840
included attempts to rehabilitate alcoholics. The 1930s ‘Great
Depression’ saw a surge of self-help groups.
self-help principles (Katz & Bender 1976; Kennard 1983; Levy 1976;
Wexler, Falkin & Lipton 1988) characterizing TCs include the (a)
beliefs of shared problems, common needs and joint efforts in dealing
with them; (b) a high level of trust and a sense of mutual suffering
thus facilitating confrontation and thereby healing; (c) active
participation via structured experiences aimed at developing
self-sufficiency, competence, and healing. Critical to the success of
the TC is the role of the advisor and the helpers who empower the
community and increase their own self worth. Additionally, intrinsic to
the success of the TC is the self-help network which accepts those
perceived as deviant and provides a sense of belonging. Consequences to
increase prosocial behaviors and decrease handicapping/ destructive
behaviors are initiated within the security provided by the self-help
The present study is an attempt to build this self-help
network by training correctional officers in the jail about the TC
principles. The assumption of this training intervention is that
it will initiate cognitive restructuring for the officers so that their
initial perceptions of the inmates as deviant and as social rejects
will change. As Polden (2010) indicates, the principle of
democratization, or the TC’s culture of self-help and self control is
contrary to the correctional culture of “unquestioning obedience”. The
officers, it is expected, will after the training, be more accepting
and understanding of the inmates and serve as a part of the self-help
network to facilitate the rehabilitation of the vulnerable inmate
study synthesizes two theories—Attribution theory and the
self-determination theory (SDT) to justify the use of the TC and
inclusion of the correctional officers in the TC. According to
the attribution theory (Kelley, 1967), social conformity can result in
motivational blocks such as the ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ whereby
individuals will act to conform with social expectations. SDT on
the other hand, explains the role of social context which frames and
impacts motivational processes and psychological development.
the correctional officers is expected to change their perceptions of
the inmate as a marginalized individual, to that of a individual worthy
of a second chance. This change in perceptions is thus expected
to impact the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ or ‘attributions’ of the
officers and thereby of the inmates as well. This change in
attributions is in turn expected to improve motivation to live a
productive life upon reentry into the society and facilitate the
psychological development, of the inmate.
communities involve a ‘systems transformation’ which is contradictory
to the commercial, individualistic, and materialist values of this
country (Dickey & Ware, 2008). The therapeutic community as
practiced in a Category B prison with approximately 240 inmates,
comprised of the correctional officers, staff, and inmates was critical
for the rehabilitation of their inmates. They report that the success
of the TC includes officers with “a remarkable capacity for being
understanding and concerned about offenders who would be vilified
elsewhere. In return, not only do prisoners respond by utilising
effectively the safe therapeutic space and opportunity available to
them to resolve internal conflicts, understand their early life
experience and the impact that these have had upon them, alongside
addressing their offending behaviours; they also show concern and
understanding towards prison officers” (Brookes, 2010; p. 44). The role
of the self-help network in facilitating positive outcomes has been
documented in various endeavors. For example, assessments of 350
clients from six TCs across Australia indicate that clients who felt
supported by the staff were motivated to being in treatment and that
motivation to being in treatment was positively related to
psychological well being in the early stages of the therapeutic process
(Klag, Creed, & Callaghan, 2010). The positive impact on
mental health after a period of three months in a drug treatment TC has
been documented among a sample of 200 clients in New Zealand (Mulder,
Frampton, Peka, Hampton, & Marsters, 2009).
Results from a
TC in Australia (Polimeni, Moore, Gruenert, 2010) including a
meta-analyses (Sacks et al., 2010) of TC from three studies revealed
positive outcomes from a modified TC for clients with co-occurring
(COD) disorders. The four comparisons from 3 studies (N = 569)
for clients with COD included clients ((homeless persons, offenders,
& outpatients) assigned either to an modified TC or a control
condition of standard services. The modified TC was characterized by
more flexibility, less intensity, and more individualization (Sacks,
2010). Results indicated that low intensity TC had a higher
retention than the moderate TC with homeless clients; modified TCs had
lower reincarceration rates than those in non TCs, and TCs with
aftercare had the lowest reincarceration rates than just the in prison
TC and the non TC groups, for offenders. In outpatient substance abuse
programs, TCs had a impact on psychological well being and housing
stability. TC programs were also successful in treating triple
diagnoses clients, with co-occurring disorders and AIDS symptoms.
The Polimeni et al. (2010) analyses of data also revealed significant
improvements in MMPI-2 clinical measures of depression, paranoia,
schizophrenia among a sample of 351 clients in a TC residential
community over a period of four months. Similarly, measures of
impulsivity involving 138 substance abusers in a TC, showed a
significant decline over a nine month period (Bankston et al., 2009).
importance of the TC ‘climate’ has been identified by researchers
(Cristofanelli et al., 2010). Factors such as communications
between TC staff /decision makers, quality of group processes such as
involvement, support, and staff role clarity in relation to clinical
tasks in the TC have been identified as pertinent to the functioning of
the TC. The Modified TC for the dually diagnosed homeless
clients, with increased staff involvement among other elements, has
also revealed significant improvements in communication and
collaborations between staff (Siddiqui, Astone-Twerell, Hernitche,
2009). Related to these findings is research that has acknowledged the
importance of fostering positive social interactions in a TC because of
their impact on expressed-in anger among the schizophrenic clients
living in a TC (Fassino, Amianto, Gastaldo, & Leombruni,
2009). Consideration of these variables becomes even more
pertinent to the present study because the participants of this study,
male inmates, have a high risk of attrition from TCs (Lopez-Goni,
Fernandez-Montalvo, Illescas, Landa, Lorea, 2008).
have thus demonstrated success in initiating positive social change for
the vulnerable inmate population. Building a community in the
correctional system requires a dramatic albeit difficult shift in the
thinking and belief systems of all stakeholders. To initiate this
shift, those officers working in the jails closest to the inmates were
recruited and exposed to the TC concepts via training to stimulate the
building of the TC in the penal setting.
intent of this concurrent embedded mixed methods study is to describe
and identify the changes in knowledge related to Therapeutic
Communities. In the study, self efficacy about the practice of
therapeutic communities was assessed after a therapeutic community
training intervention. At the same time the understanding about
therapeutic communities and changes in the attitudes towards inmates
were explored using open-ended survey questions administered to
correctional officers from the jail, at the training site.
mixed methods design was selected to capture the advantages of both the
qualitative and quantitative designs. Qualitative designs allow the
researcher to explore and describe processes without leading the
participant toward any structured response. Quantitative designs
on the other hand, allow the researchers to predict and generalize the
outcomes to other settings. The concurrent embedded design
captured the advantages of both the designs. The timing of the survey
was concurrent, that is the survey was administered with its
qualitative and quantitative components at the same point in time.
Weighting of the qualitative and quantitative strategies was equal, and
the mixing of the data took place successively whereby qualitative data
was converted into quantitative data and analyzed.
The following research questions were posed:
the theories of attribution and self-determination explain the impact
of training on the changes in understanding about TCs and attitudes
towards inmates? Furthermore,
to validate the impact of the training on the officers, inmates were
surveyed as well. The research question posed was:
How do the officers describe a therapeutic community after their training about TCs?
How do the officers describe an inmate before and after their training about TCs?
What is the efficacy of the officer regarding applying the TC principles at the work site?
Does the training of the officers have an impact on the inmate attitudes towards the officers?
The hypotheses for the quantitative research questions were:
There will be no difference between the attitudes towards the inmates
prior to the training in comparison with those after the training.Participants
There will be a significant difference between the attitudes towards
the inmates prior to the training in comparison with those after the
Ho: There will be no difference between the different themes related to the knowledge about TCs after the training.
H2: There will be a significant difference between the different themes related to the knowledge about TCs after the training.
Ho: The self efficacy of the officers towards implementing the TC principles will be below average after the training.
H3: The self efficacy of the officers towards implementing the TC principles will be above average after the training.
total of 63 participants (correctional officers) attended a four day
course conducted thrice to date (November to June, 2011) on Therapeutic
Communities in Residential Substance Abuse treatment. Majority of
the participants were female (approximately 60%), and included those
who had worked for more than 3 years in corrections (approximately
A survey which included
eight open-ended questions was administered to all 63 participants
after the training. Fourteen officers were administered both pre and
post surveys which included the open ended questions and a structured
set of General Self Efficacy questions (adapted from Schwarzer &
Jerusalem, 1979). Examples of adapted questions included: Thanks to my
resourcefulness and learning about TC, I know how to handle unforeseen
situations; Using TC knowledge, I can solve most problems if I invest
the necessary effort. The 10-item survey had a 4-point response scale
with 1 = Not at all true, 2 = Hardly true, 3 = Moderately true, 4 =
Exactly true. Examples of open-ended questions are: What is your
understanding of the Therapeutic Community; What do you see that may
impede the development of this program? An inmate is…
survey was administered to the officers at the county training
site. Officers took 15 to 30 minutes to complete the survey at
each administration. Pre tests were administered prior to any
information about the TCs on the first day of the training. Post tests
were administered on the last day of the training prior to wrap up
activities and certificate distribution. A scheduled time was set for
survey administration by the trainers. All surveys were
confidential, and included the informed consent per the guidelines of
the APA Ethics Code. To enable comparison of the pre and post
test responses, 4-digit codes were used as identifiers.
SPSS was used to analyze the data. The open ended responses were coded
into themes and descriptive and non parametric statistics were used to
test the hypotheses.
The first research hypothesis, that there
will be a significant difference between the attitudes towards the
inmates prior to the training in comparison with those after the
training, was tested by coding the responses about inmates, into
themes. In response to the open ended question: An inmate is…The
following themes were identified: A Positive theme was defined as
an inmate who was a “person in need of help” and someone who “made a
mistake”. A Negative theme was defined as an inmate who was a person
who commits an “offense against law” and who is “allegedly breaking the
law”. Comparisons of the responses pre and post training revealed
significant differences, χ2 (2, N = 13) = 4.95, p = .026. That
is, 9 negative themes and 4 positive themes were identified on the
pretest and 7 positive and 6 negative themes on the post test.
second research hypothesis, that there will be a significant difference
between the different themes related to the knowledge about TCs after
the training, was evaluated, with knowledge defined as an understanding
about the TC, primary concepts identified related to TC, and whom the
officers considered as the ‘rational authority’.
response to the following questions: What is your understanding of the
Therapeutic Community? Responses were categorized into, ‘together’ or
‘inmate focus’. Examples of the category ‘together’ are: Helping the
client make a change in their life, to save individuals in receiving a
second chance in life, environment designed to bring individuals
together for a common purpose…to facilitate change through membership
and participation. Examples of the category ‘inmate focus’ are: Getting
inmates to admit that they have issues, helps an individual understand
to become a better person and …be able to function in society, healing
…and self improvement mentally occurs.
Responses to this
question yielded the following results. Majority of the
participants ( n = 37) indicated that this community included, “inmates
as having issues”(inmate focused) versus “together” (n = 24).
However, no significant differences were found in these themes.
response to the question about the concepts you learned in the
training; several themes were identified. Responses were categorized
into, ‘team’, ‘communication’, ‘environment focus’, ‘cognitive
behavior’ or ‘evidence based approach’. Examples of Team include: it is
a journey not a destination, we need to all …work through to help
others, Examples of Communication include: Listen and learn that
there are other methods than mine, Examples of Environment focus
include: Creating an environment of therapeutic care, creating
atmosphere for change. Examples of Cognitive Behavior include: Open
mind, every person has things going on in their lives, believe in
change, we need to all self inventory, dealing with self, humility, you
must be the change before you can help others; Examples of
Evidence based approach include : awareness, spirituality, healing.
of the participants (n = 28) indicated that one of the top
concepts included, “ cognitive behavior” or changing the way you
think, χ2 (4, N = 57) = 35.37, p = .000.
response to the following question about TCs, who is the rational
authority? responses were categorized into, ‘us’, ‘me’ or ‘they’.
Examples of Us include: The community, we are, individuals that create
the TC. Examples of Me include: I am, self; Examples of They include:
Chief jailer, warden etc., clinical staff. Responses to
this question yielded significant results, χ2 (2, N = 58) = 36.66, p =
.000. Majority of the participants (n = 41) indicated that the
rational authority included us “we are”.
Results also indicated
some interesting findings. For example, when officers were asked on
what would assist them in executing their role in the TC, responses
were categorized into, ‘roles and responsibilities’, ‘additional
training’, ‘specific training’, ‘cognitive behavior therapy’, or
‘evidence based practices’. Results indicated that a majority (n
= 30) asked for “additional training”, χ2 (5, N = 56) = 62.93, p =
Results related to the test of the third
hypothesis, that the self efficacy of the officers towards implementing
the TC principles will be above average after the training, was testing
using a one-sample t-test, and the µ = 20, given that the range of the
scores was 10 to 40. Results indicated a significant difference of the
total self-efficacy score from the average, t (12) = 20.44, p = .000;
Meantotal = 37.08, SE = .84. The highest mean self-efficacy score was
for the following item 8: If I am confronted with a problem
regarding TC, I will be able to find several solutions; Mean = 3.71, SE
= .13. A one-sample Kolmogorov-Smimov test indicated a support for the
hypothesis that the distribution of the total self-efficacy scores was
normal with a mean of 37.08 and a standard deviation of 3.01.
Furthermore, a one sample binomial test on the self-efficacy item 8
indicated that the responses to the item, moderately true and exactly
true were with equal probabilities ( .5).
to the TC training were validated by assessing the attitudes of jail
inmates in the Second Chance program. All inmates completed the
optional survey anonymously and returned them to a file folder in the
jail pod. Surveys were administered by one of the clients in the
program, in the absence of any supervisory staff. The adapted
10-item self efficacy scale, administered to the 22 inmates to gauge
the efficacy towards the officers implementing the TC principles, was
evaluated against the average using a one-sample t-test, and the µ =
20, since the range of the scores was 10 to 40. Results indicated a
significant difference of the total self-efficacy score from the
average, t (21) = 2.54, p = .019; Meantotal = 23.55, SE = 1.39.
Furthermore, responses to the statements, on the 4-point scale, If I am
in trouble, I will not hesitate to ask the officers for help (Meantotal
= 2.91, SE = .23), and I believe the officers want to help me in my
recovery (Meantotal = 2.59, SE = .20) had the highest scores of
the officers about TCs had a significant impact on the knowledge gained
and attitudes changed. Officers recognized that implementing the
TC concepts involved ‘changing the way you think’ and that to do so
they would need additional training. The concept of shifting the
rational authority from me or they to ‘us’ indicates a dramatic shift
in the thinking of the officers. Additionally, the shift in the
perceptions of inmates as those who need help, and who were therefore
eligible for a ‘second chance’ is noteworthy. Validation by the inmates
as documented by their positive beliefs about the officers, further
confirms this shift in knowledge and attitudes. As researchers
have noted, the staff ‘buy-in’ of the TC model is necessary for the
survival of the program (Siddiqui et al., 2009). Furthermore, as
Cristofanelli, Fassio, Ferro, and Zennaro (2010) emphasize, it is
important for research as well as clinical practice to recognize the
importance of relationships or climate factors in the behavioral
changes of clients.
Although the results of the training are
encouraging, these results were impacted with threats to validity which
are acknowledged here. For example, since all officers work in the same
jail, the possibility of “diffusion of treatment” by hearing about the
program from other staff, threatens the ability of drawing conclusions
about the sole impact of the training. Furthermore, only the last
batch of officers was pre tested. A pre and post test would have
enabled the researchers to use powerful parametric statistics which
would have provided powerful confirmatory analyses.
It is duly
noted that although it is beyond the boundaries of this study, it is
important to track the longitudinal applications of the TC concepts and
investigate their impact on recidivism and productivity of the inmates
in the community. In the meanwhile, this training sets the
framework for a social–context that facilitates motivations and healthy
psychological development for the vulnerable population. Polden
(2010) communicates the importance of TCs succinctly. She
says “TCs and the staff who work there are the unsung success
story of our creaking and overcrowded prison system…. officers depend,
sometimes literally for their lives, upon each other’s unwavering
courage and loyalty and the knowledge that the moment the alarm goes
off each will run unhesitatingly towards whatever danger there may be,
rather than (like the rest of us) away from it. This trust has enabled
difficult issues to be brought to supervision, mistakes to be explored
and learnt from and, sometimes in personally painful and demanding
circumstances, support to be offered and given” (p. 519). This
evaluation of the training of correctional officers acknowledges its
impact and more importantly captures the role of these ‘unsung’ heroes,
the correctional officers, in the TC process. The findings of a
cognitive shift, albeit the first step in a long journey towards
rehabilitation of the inmates, are the first but critical initiatives
toward the empowerment of the officers, inmates, and the community as
well. The potential for initiating positive social change by taking
this first step, for reducing recidivism, rehabilitating inmates into
becoming productive members of the community and fostering the growth
of safer communities are imminent.
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