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November 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Change Talk and Treatment Turn Around Lives

“Everyone has the opportunity to turn their lives around,” says Melissa Cahill, U.S. Probation Officer in the Eastern District of Missouri. But research has shown that certain factors—called criminogenic needs—put offenders under supervision at greater risk of revocation. Among the factors are substance abuse, criminal peers, anti-social values, low self-control, dysfunctional family ties, and a criminal personality.

“Our long-term goal,” said Cahill, “is to try to change overall behavior. Research helps us better identify those people at risk of revocation, to address specific criminogenic needs, and to intervene.” Evidencebased practices—practices proven to consistently produce specific results in offender supervision—are at the heart of such intervention and in reducing recidivism.

In fiscal year 2007, probation and pretrial services offices in 16 districts nationwide were funded to implement evidence based practices. Practices include offender workforce development, cognitive-behavioral treatment, risk/needs assessment, re-entry court, and motivational interviewing. These practices were developed through reviews of literature and discussions with experts in the field, as well as feedback from various districts.

Both Cahill’s and David Keeler’s districts use motivational interviewing, known as MI. MI builds on an offender’s internal motivation to change their behavior and has been shown to be especially effective in substance abuse treatment. Keeler calls MI “change talk,” because it relies on the offender’s own belief in his or her ability to change.

“With MI, it’s not the probation officer saying, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’ ” Keeler explains. “It’s getting the offender saying, ‘Here’s what I need to do.’ And we give them the tools to do that.”