Mark Jaeger

Mark Jaeger is director of Goodhue County Court Services.

In the ongoing search for the best solution to reducing crime the corrections pendulum has swung back and forth over time -- from punitive approaches in dealing with offenders to a more treatment oriented philosophy.  

A review of various therapeutic interventions by Mark Lipsey of Vanderbilt University showed that cognitive behavioral approaches are more effective than other therapeutic interventions in reducing criminal behavior. As more research has been conducted, it has shown that those interventions based on punishment and deterrence may actually increase recidivism (reoffending) rates and those based on counseling and skill development showed the best promise of reducing criminal behavior.  

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common psychological intervention used for decades to treat mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders in the general public.  Because of its validated effectiveness and broad application, cognitive behavioral therapy has now been widely adopted in the field of corrections for use in both juvenile and adult populations in prisons, residential programs and probation.  

Goodhue County Court Services probation supervision of offenders is guided by evidence-based practices of risk/needs assessment, motivational interviewing, case planning and cognitive behavioral interventions which, when used together, generally bear the best outcomes. 

Promoting change

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT operates on the premise that people are responsible for their thoughts and behaviors and do have the capacity to change those patterns of thinking and acting. Experiences, beliefs and learned behavior can affect patterns of thinking, and flawed thinking patterns drive poor decision making and behavior choices. 

Probation agents are trained to use cognitive behavioral intervention skills in a group setting or during individual client interactions. Experienced probation agents can often recognize characteristics of criminal thinking such as acting on impulse, feelings of entitlement, lack of empathy, poor anger management, etc. The agent may challenge the client on these attitudes and assumptions to help determine for themselves whether they are producing the desired result, for example avoiding legal problems.

This process of cognitive restructuring replaces self-defeating thoughts and behaviors with pro-social skills to achieve their goals while avoiding negative consequences.

Probation work requires both the enforcement of court orders and attempts to help clients make the changes needed to maximize their potential and avoid further involvement with the legal system. Court Services balances the concerns of public safety, offender accountability and competency development in working with our clientele in efforts to create a safer Goodhue County.

Mark Jaeger is director of Goodhue County Court Services.

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