Today's Psychology In Solitary Confinement: By Derek Capozzi
As I sit in my cell it crosses my mind that the people running the psychological departments of penal institutions may know a lot less about rehabilitation than they put out. 1/ In other words: they act like they know more than they truly do. Perhaps, even, they do not care.
The perception today is that "criminal thinking" errors can be categorically changed through the use of a class of therapy models designed for prisoners to participate in, inside both group and/or individual settings; mainly which, the prisoners of the ADX Florence and similar environments (e.g., SHU's and SMU's) must participate in by way snail-mail packets.
Yet no empirical data nor test studies exist which establish these therapy models nor their adaptive methods of implementation have any statistically different outcomes as to the criminal thinking errors of prisoners (versus different models or no models at all). The fact is that when prisoners housed in long-term or indefinite isolation do participate in such models of therapy (i.e., snail-mail packets delivered to their cell in the mail each week; each containing a number of Q. and A.'s to be filled out and returned via the institutional mail; out-of-cell "group therapy" of 5-8 prisoners locked in tiny single-cages, etc.) they do so voluntarily -- for the most part'' and by this point they have self-determined not to recidivate. This would distort recidivism rate usages from being a successful means of measuring the success of the model.
Further, studies have historically shown, as criminals age their recidivism rates decline. This alone evidences a factor for their reversal of criminal thinking.
1/ I say "run" as opposed to simply working within, and under the direction of, said individuals. This matters inasmuch as those who run these departments are tasked with creating standard models of therapy, then putting those into effect; whereas others, who work under their direction, are merely responsible for operating such models as they are directed by their superiors. And while this point matters most of the time, it certainly doesn't cover every circumstance and all times (as is shown further below).
These is no sure means, under the circumstances, to measure prisoners' reversal of criminal thinking behaviors as being the result of the successes of these model forms of therapy as opposed to their simply choosing to no longer engage in criminal thinking for various other reasons.
We can try to simply ask prisoners for feedback about what's helping and what is not. But this method has also been proven unreliable. In a Columbia University study conducted by Matt Blanchard and Barry Farber, 547 clients (non-prisoners) were surveyed about their honesty in therapy. 93% reported "whitewashing" feedback to their therapists and "pretending to find therapy effective." If patients in society fabricate success at such high percentages it is (presumably) moreso that prisoners will do the same. At this rate it is practically impossible to determine whether or not a model from of therapy is effective.
In my view, criminal thinking behaviors cannot be packaged into a neatly tied box with a ribbon on top that can be cured through the Bureau of Prisons' model forms of therapy. At least not as they are currently implemented in their lock-down units and facilities. As Tony Rousmaniere adequately wrote in an article for The Atlantic:
"If promoting one model over the others doesn't improve client outcomes, what does? As the APA 2/ put it: "patient and therapist characteristics, which are not usually captured by a patient's diagnosis or by the therapist's use of a specific psychotherapy, affect the results." In other words, more important than the model being used is the skill of the therapist: can therapists engender trust and openness? Can they treat clients with warmth and compassion while, when necessary, challenging them? 3/
2/ American Psychology Association.
3/ "What Your Therapist Doesn't Know", April 2017, theatlantic.com
Rousmaniere experienced this himself which a patient he had run into a brick wall with. After consulting with therapist Jon Frederickson he reported:
"When I asked how I could help her, he counseled me to get out of the authority role," (emphasis added) and to "approach [her] as an equal partner" (April 2017, theatlantic.com). After he approached his client with what he'd been told and asked her view, she reportedly "was quiet for a moment, then I saw a faint glimmer of a smile on her face. 'He may be right,' she admitted". They went on to finish 2 years of successful therapy.
Sometimes some prisoners have made a conscious decision to give up old criminal thinking ways but are simply in need of a therapist who with "get out of the authority role," and see us "as an equal" and who will "engender trust and openness." A therapist who will help us to "face [our] deepest fears" and treat us with "warmth and compassion while, when necessary, challenging [us] too.
Not only do we rarely (if ever) get these needs met; most times prison-therapists frown upon such APA recommended methods and advocate for exactly the opposite. The do so (they claim) out of concerns for manipulative prisoners who may attempt to compromise security and/or ethical standards. A genuine concern in a prison setting. But when therapists concern themselves in the constant daily concerns of such matters to the degree they appear to (and do) become "authority" figures whom are never our "equals", thereby engendering no feelings of "trust" nor "openness", they become one of our "deepest fears"; with whom we never feel "warmth" or "compassion" from.
In that environment there is no hope of any model of therapy keeping prisoners from deteriorating back to our old criminal thinking ways at our weakest moments and times of need: moments and times we'll likely never admit to any therapist.
Also, the B.O.P's Psychology Departments would have much better success rates in it's therapy models through incorporation
-3- of the "feedback-informed treatment", or, "FIT" system into the operation of treatment programs. 4/ Following the empirical date from the FIT system on a regular basis would greatly increase the successes of determining which patients are deteriorating back into their criminal thinking ways or other such negative mental health conditions, thereby alerting therapists for increased needs for intervention.
Yet I do believe there is hope. It may take some time, but systems do change and throughout my time I have observed changes. They trickle down into the system like raindrops filling a milk jug, but they exist. Many times, I've seen prisoners who have served their time like reckless hopeless beings; breaking every rule, regulation, and law, on a constant, near daily, basis; only to be released society to never do so again. Instead choosing to find a job and never look back, their criminal thinking abandoned as if they'd had a sudden epiphany. And every now and then a therapist comes along who knows what they are doing and cares. One who knows how to connect with those in need and who gets the job done right. As long as I know these things are possible then I know there is hope.
By: Derek A. Capozzi
P.O. Box 8500
Florence, CO 81226
March 30, 2020
4/FIT is a computerized system developed by Brigham Young University's Michael Lambert over several decades. It has "85% accuracy" prediction rates, over 3 or more therapy sessions, as to which patients will "deteriorate". See Rousmaniere article (cited above). It takes "three therapy sessions" before the FIT system begins to functionally make such predictions. It does not purport to have all the answers in only three sessions.
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