By carefully selecting programs to treat prison inmates, behavior of many high-risk offenders can be changed, criminologist Ed Latessa of the University of Cincinnati told state policymakers in Washington, D.C., yesterday. “We can change behavior, but we have to do it the right way,” Latessa said. Programs that focus on factors like anti-social peer associations, substance abuse, and lack of problem solving and self-control skills tend to work better than things like drug education, self help and “vague unstructured rehabilitation,” he said. Latessa was one of several speakers who addressed an unusual gathering of delegations from corrections agencies, governors’ offices, and the judiciary from all 50 states to discuss ways to improve prisoner re-entry and cut recidivism.
The session was sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the U.S. Justice Department, the Pew Center on the States, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Association of State Correctional Administrators. A. T. Wall, Rhode Island corrections director and president of the national association, agreed with Latessa that effective government programs could reduce repeat criminality and save taxpayers money during a “worse fiscal crisis that any of us have experienced.” The Pew Center on the States presented a video with examples of promising programs in places ranging from Cincinnati to Fresno, Ca., to Hawaii, where Project Hope has cut repeat crimes by probationers by imposing swift, certain sanctions.