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Oklahoma lawmakers seek ways to lower recidivism and cost in state prisons

Criminal justice expert Ed Latessa spoke to lawmakers and criminal justice stakeholders at a Capitol meeting Wednesday.
BY VALLERY BROWN vbrown@opubco.com Published: September 15, 2011
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The most effective way to prevent incarcerated criminals from reoffending is through programs focusing on changing behaviors, a national expert on criminal justice reform said Wednesday.

Ed Latessa, director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, said most research shows punishment alone doesn't reduce recidivism, and not all programs designed to help are useful, either.

They aren't one-size-fits-all programs, and include cognitive behavioral approaches and teaching new behaviors.

The event was presented by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and The Council of State Governments as a part of The Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The initiative is a process for state leaders and criminal justice professionals to analyze Oklahoma's criminal justice system data and identify strategies to reduce costs and increase public safety.

Focusing on now

“The most effective interventions are behavioral ... that focus on current problems, not the past,” Latessa said. “We can't change the past.”

Effective programs attack risk factors for recidivism such as pro-criminal or anti-social attitudes, values and beliefs that have them reject authority, convention and the value of others.

Emotional states like rage, anger, defiance and criminal identity are also risk factors.

“Taking drug offenders and educating them about drugs, it's really a dumb idea when you think about it,” he said. “Talk therapy ... getting them in a circle and asking them about what they want to talk about isn't effective in changing their behavior either.”

Latessa said offenders who are impulsive, pleasure seeking and who lack positive social influences need to be taught how to manage this.

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Taking drug offenders and educating them about drugs, it's really a dumb idea when you think about it.”

Ed Latessa, director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati

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