What Works in Corrections – Meta Study Summary Findings

New book by John Shuford

Mid 21st Century Criminal Justice: Transforming Work Culture

Much has been written about the problems within our criminal justice system, both law enforcement and corrections, but never before has that been presented along with the causes of those problems and specific strategies to correct them. This unique and remarkable book, based on Shuford’s 30 years of experience, is a must read for criminal justice policy makers, leadership, supervisors as well as educators in preparing students for careers in criminal justice. This content packed text will lead the reader from research based consequences of criminal justice employee stress through an analysis of neurological and cultural variables that contribute to that stress to comprehensive yet precisely designed strategies for change and how to apply them. It is a practical guide for criminal justice leadership, training academies; and educators will find it an invaluable supplemental text for advanced policing and corrections courses and criminal justice administration and management courses. It is about time that the criminal justice field had such a resource to carry it into the 21st century.

This book should be included in any curriculum in Criminal Justice Studies. It describes dysfunctional culture within the prison system and documents the damage this culture inflicts on the health of prison employees. More importantly, it provides a vision for a more healthy culture of prison administration, and draws on the author’s three decades of experience providing workshops in prisons to lay out a path for culture change and transformation of the prison system. It is a valuable resource for those preparing for criminal justice work, for current supervisors and other criminal justice employees, and for policy makers.

Vernie Davis

Professor Emeritus of Cultural Anthropology and Peace & Conflict Studies and Former Director Conflict Resolution Resource Center, Guilford College

The psychological and physical health needs of Criminal Justice staff beyond the necessary but not sufficient “going home safe at the end of the shift” is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Agency training catalogues, selection and promotion processes, and employee cultures are under the wellness microscope in many locations. If you work in one of those jurisdictions or would like to pave the way for such an initiative, this text is a must. In this content packed text, the reader will be led from research-based consequences of criminal justice employee stress through an analysis of both the neurological and cultural variables that contribute to that stress to a comprehensive yet precisely designed strategy for change, which John has developed during his 30-year career. You will find powerful descriptions of not just what strategies to use, but how to apply them, and what behavioral and psychological principles they address.

Gregory Morton, M.Sc

Administrator of Staff Training and Professional Development (Retd.), Oregon Department of Corrections

Awesome work, law enforcement leaders and BLET instructors should read. What is clear, we must train today’s generation of employees differently. This book highlights the need for law enforcement training in effective communication and interpersonal skills, which are crucial in today’s climate. The tried-and-true para-military instruction has its place, but there is a difference between training soldiers and officers. The military is focused on killing the enemy, but in law enforcement there is no enemy, just one human engaging with another human. The theme of human engaging type training presented in this book will benefit law enforcement into the next century. John supports that need to change as we prepare our future officers and leaders of law enforcement.

B.J. Council

Deputy Police Chief (Ret), Owner, You & Five-O, LLC, Durham NC

It is excellent, right on target! A practical guide for leadership with some very real and true real world examples that can be understood at any level. Changing the work culture is so very important, equally as important as improving pay and benefits that many seem to be continually focused on as the only need.…..but without the culture improvements agencies will continue to struggle with turnover and the poor health and life expectancy of staff despite pay improvements.

Tim Moose

Chief Deputy Secretary , NC Department of Public Safety, Adult Correction & Juvenile Justice

Mid-21st Century Criminal Justice: Transforming the Work Culture is an essential read for both law enforcement and correctional executives if they want to implement proven strategies to retain talented staff. For educators, it is also a useful supplemental text for an advanced policing or corrections course or a criminal justice administration and management course. Shuford first focuses on why traditional work cultures in policing and corrections are problematic and then provides tangible and actionable solutions to reform work culture to improve morale. A supplemental text that incorporates practical application is a welcome addition for courses that examine management, administration, and leadership in policing and correctional contexts. 

Dr. Heidi S. Bonner

Director, Criminal Justice Department, East Carolina University

This book provides a comprehensive look at the systemic problems inherent in law enforcement agencies. What I found unique and remarkable is that the book also offers ways to change the culture to make it work more effectively.

As a trauma therapist, I know how important it is to address the psychological issues that emerge with  staff who are in a constant state of stress. There are programs that deal with the trauma experienced by the inmates; however little has been done concerning staff.

I have worked with John doing trauma related activities in a prison and I have seen how effective John’s experiential program has been.  To truly understand the necessary changes needed in the system, one must understand trauma. This book provides the history of trauma, how it remains in the cells of one’s body and the impact of trauma on not just a person, but the family and community outside of the job. It is easy to talk about what is wrong, harder to give examples of how the system can be improved.

John Shuford’s book would be helpful as a resource to criminal justice students, supervisory staff in law enforcement and those working with the impact of trauma. It is filled with examples and provides a realistic guide in ways to deal with the trauma of working in a nonsupportive, outdated system. 

Elinor H. Brody MSS, LCSW

Australian Interview with John on Trauma From the Front Line

John was interviewed by Bruce Perham on his podcast program “Trauma From the Front Line” which is a podcast series directed at correctional officers and frontline responders to provide them with access to a wide range of psychologists working in the trauma fields, key stakeholders in the emergency sector and individuals willing to share their experiences of trauma in the delivering of their frontline occupations. The focus is educational and the goal is to encourage people to be proactive in managing their own mental health and for people who need help to find the pathway to achieving it.

Excerpts from “What Works in Corrections; Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents” A meta-analysis of thousands of studies by Doris Layton MacKenzie Pages 333-339

What doesn’t work:

  • Life skills education
  • Correctional industries
  • Multi-component work programs
  • Boot camps for adults and juveniles
  • Intensive supervision

No single explanation seems adequate to explain why these programs were not found to be effective in reducing recidivism. Some possible reasons for these findings may be that the programs:

  1. Have poor or no theoretical basis
  2. Are poorly implemented
  3. Focus on punishment, deterrence, or control instead of providing human service or rehabilitation
  4. Emphasize the formation of ties or bonds without first changing the individual’s thought process

None of the interventions focusing on punishment, deterrence, or control were found to reduce recidivism.

What does work:

  • Academic education
  • Vocation education
  • MRT [Moral Reconation Therapy]
  • R & R [Reasoning & Rehabilitation]
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Drug treatment in the community
  • Incarceration-based drug treatment

Almost all of the effective programs focused on individual-level change. In contrast, the ineffective programs frequently focused on developing opportunities. For example, the cognitive skills programs emphasized individual-level changes in thinking, reasoning, empathy, and problem solving. In contrast, life skills and work programs, examples of ineffective programs, focus on giving the offenders opportunities in the community. Based on these observations, I propose that effective programs must focus on changing the individual. This change is required before the person will be able to take advantage of opportunities in the environment.

Recently, some criminologists have emphasized the importance of attachment to a variety of social institutions such as marriage, work or school . . . Individuals form bonds with social institutions. As bonds strengthen, social capital rises. This capital supplies resources to solve problems. Dependence on capital means that much is jeopardized if it is lost. As bonds form and social capital increases, criminal activity becomes more costly.

Meaningful social bonds established during adulthood can function as critical life events or turning points when offenders begin to conform and turn away from criminal activity.

I propose that individual-level change must precede changes in ties or bonds to social institutions . . . The social environment may be conducive to the formation of ties, but the individual must change if the bond is to form . . . the person must change in cognitive reasoning, attitude toward drug use, anti-social attitudes, reading level, or vocation skills. This change (is) a cognitive transformation. Such transformations are necessary before a person makes initial moves toward a different way of life.

From this perspective two things are needed. First, a cognitive transformation must occur within the individual. Second, the individual environment must provide the opportunity for the bond or tie to form. An interaction between the individual and the environment is required.

Re-entry programs that focus on opportunities for work, reunite families and provide housing. . . will not be effective if there is not also a focus on individual-level transformation. The results from my review suggest that such opportunities should be preceded by programs focusing on changing the individual through cognitive change, education, or drug treatment.