The Harvard Law of Animal Behaviour, states "under carefully controlled experimental circumstances, an animal will behave as it damned well pleases."
This law explains why all prison regimes, interventions and courses based on what I will call Folklore Psychology fail. I predict Incentives and Earned Privileges will have no effect on recidivism rates. Putting someone on basic and taking away their TV will build resentment, if you mistreat any animal you are likely to get bitten.
There is a paradox, international comparisons show that the countries with the lowest ratio of Probation Officers to Prisoners have proportionally a lower prison population the exact opposite of what you would expect, but you could be comparing apples and oranges so you cannot draw a conclusion. Scotland has a very similar prison population per hundred thousand as England and Wales, the crime rate and prison population mirror each other, not very surprising social factors are about the same. The probation staff in Scotland is about half that of England and Wales pro rata, for a similar outcome.
It would be reasonable to conclude that the number of Probation Officers employed makes no difference to re-offending. “The animal behaves as it damn well pleases”. However there is an important difference between Scottish probation and England and Wales that could be giving the Scots an advantage. Their Criminal Justice Social Work Services, is an integration of Scottish probation services and generic social work departments, through the Social Work (Scotland Act 1968.) Since then Scotland has experienced criminal justice policy trends similar to the rest of the United Kingdom resulting in an increased emphasis on public protection through risk management and on reducing re offending. Nevertheless, practice in Scotland has remained firmly rooted within social work principles with a commitment to social inclusion.
In 2010 an Advisory Group emphasised the need to support practitioners and managers professional autonomy within a framework of accountability, whilst ensuring the personalised delivery of criminal justice social work services. In addition, a key focus of the revision was to support the active participation of offenders in work towards outcomes.
The personalised delivery may be a key. In England and Wales the trend is to group offenders into bands, cohorts or whatever, not as an individual. I am not a psychologist, but I understand that our behaviour depends on what we have experienced in life and it can be changed by new experiences.
It is possible that as the CRC's reduce their staff by 40% the recidivism rate will not change. If that happens it doesn't mean Martinson was right when he said “Nothing Works”, just that Nothing Works based on the “punish and protect” philosophy. Could that be a time to switch to a new philosophy based on giving positive experiences to change behaviour? The only intervention that I can think of as positive, is Circles of Support and Accountability as conceived by the Mennonites and taken forward by a couple of American states. Many adoptions of this are tainted by elements of punish and protect, some accidental, I believe in the UK many volunteer 'friends' are criminology students anxious to get something on their CV's, more interested in questioning the core member about his crime than giving them a positive experience socialising.
I remain open minded, it's a complex subject, but I have a belief that in a contest between good and evil, good will eventually prevail, so something must work.