Forensic Psychology Literature Review
August 13, 2018
Dr. Samantha Hickman
Forensic Psychology Literature Review
Prison inmates vary in demographics levels; especially, in education. The prison staff are comprised of professional psychologists, clinicians, correction officers, and medical personnel. Although, it appears, by their support, that inmates are being rehabilitated, prison systems fail to bring about a social change in creating inmates awareness of techniques and education to confront the issue of anger management.
This literature review will discuss how the prison staff psychologists can educate correctional workers to implement shaping and chaining, reinforcement schedules, and one-trial learning techniques to inmates. In addition, it will demonstrate how psychologists and corrections can apply these techniques as positive strategies towards anger management. Lastly, this review will address facilities current use and effectiveness of these learning concepts.
Shaping and Chaining
According to Boundless Psychology (2016), “Shaping is a method of operant conditioning by which successive approximations of a target behavior are reinforced”. In essence, shaping is learned when a person does something and receives corrective feedback. According to Schunk (2016, p. 4), “chaining is the process of producing or altering some of the variables that serve as stimuli for future responses.” Chaining is made up of a sequence of operants, each of which causes the occurrence of additional responses. The shaping and chaining concept are interconnected because it involves the breakdown of several steps to acquire new behaviors. When applying this process to inmates, the goal is to find out what is causing the anger and find a solution to control that behavior to bring about a positive change. A literature review was conducted on incentive programs, and behavioral management approaches in a prison setting. A research article by Serin & Hanby (2009) stated that “rewarding appropriate behaviors among inmates can serve to promote motivation and engagement in treatment program activities when they are properly structured and administered.” However, the results of this study concluded that, “individual incentives (e.g. tokens, vouchers, money) and systemic incentives (levels with gradations of privileges, contingency management) have shown promise in non-correctional settings (e.g. drug and alcohol treatment and mental health treatment settings)” (Serin & Hanby, 2009). Conversely, when the incentive based system was introduced in a prison setting, few behavioral improvements were observed in inmates. Additionally, a number of unintentional consequences were reported, which included an adverse effect on staff-prisoner associations.
According to Serin & Hanby (2009), “contingency management systems include token economy, contingency contracting, shaping, positive reinforcement, and response cost.” While shaping can aid in altering a current response, like anger, through positive reinforcement over time to favorable behavior, “most treatment programs tend to dispense disciplinary actions against inmates who violate institutional or program rules” (Serin & Hanby, 2009). Most prisons do not reward inmates for positive behaviors, but rather impose punishments for bad behaviors. A reward system that is adequately designed and managed would likely encourage motivation and commitment in treatment program activities among inmates. Essentially, what was found in this article is that although shaping may help in some settings, it was not shown to be as effective in a prison environment.
“A reinforcement schedule is a tool in operant conditioning that allows the trainer to control the timing and frequency of reinforcement to elicit a target behavior” (Boundless, 2016). This model can be implemented in the prison system as a way to encourage positive behavior in the inmates via the use of reinforcements and punishment for poor behavior. A research study was conducted on the development and implementation of positive behavioral reinforcements in the prison system in 2011. According to Burdon, De Lore, & Prendergast (2011), “prison systems possess and promote a fundamentally different philosophy and set of policies regarding management of behavior and tend to enforce compliance with institutional rules and codes of behavioral conduct through the contingent delivery of punishment to individuals who engage in specified behaviors that violate such rules and codes of conduct, this has shown that the difficulty with reinforcement schedules is that once the plan is terminated the reinforced desired behavior can also begin to deteriorate if the reinforcement stops.” Consequently, prison staff is often left dealing with angry and frustrated inmates or inmates who lack motivation and who refuse to remain in compliance.
One Trial Learning Techniques
One-trial learning is a type of classical conditioning that is spontaneous and does not require any premeditated thinking. One-trial learners are unreceptive; people are often challenged with several stimuli and connections to all of them cannot be made. Instead, only a few stimuli are chosen, and connections and responses are made between them. Prison psychologists can educate the prison staff to implement one-trial learning techniques with inmates via the use of verbal cues. Sometimes inmates either forget what is expected of them, or they simply do not want to comply, providing them with a small list of directions might be helpful in this process. For example, to provide inmates with strategies to control their anger, an immediate consequence to a stimulus must be applied. One-trial learning techniques can be developed in the prison system by adding a direct consequence to inmates who rebel out of anger. For instance, adding more time onto their sentence or perhaps another source of punishment as a response to the stimuli (anger). Implementing these learning theories in a prison setting can be very useful in providing anger management skills to inmates, in addition to, applying these skills in their lives after they are released.
The prison system population is comprised of a combination of prison staff and inmates from diverse backgrounds and educational levels. The historical development and current use of shaping and chaining, reinforcement schedules, and one-trial learning illustrate alternative methods to improve inmate behaviors via the use of anger management therapy. The implementation of these learning theories in combination with positive approaches may encourage positive changes to occur in the behavior of inmates. It is vital to gain a good understanding of these learning concepts, and effective implementation in a prison setting.
This paper discussed how prison staff psychologists can educate prison staff on the appropriate implementation of shaping and chaining, reinforcement schedules, and one-trial learning methods to inmates, and how they can apply these techniques towards healthy anger management strategies. Additionally, the theoretic basis for the principles of shaping and chaining, reinforcement schedules, and one-trial learning methods, including historical development, were provided. Lastly, this paper addressed the present understanding on the effective use of these learning concepts.
Boundless (2016). Schedules of Reinforcement. Retrieved on July 12, 2017 from, https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology- textbook/learning-7/operant-conditioning-47/schedules-of-reinforcement-200-12735/
Boundless (2016). Shaping. Retrieved on July 11, 2017, from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology- textbook/learning-7/operant-conditioning-47/shaping-198-12733/
Burdon, W. M., De Lore, J. S., & Prendergast, M. L. (2011). Developing and Implementing a Positive Behavioral Reinforcement Intervention in Prison-Based Drug Treatment: Project BRITE. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 7, 40–50.
Schunk, D. (2016). Learning theories: an educational perspective (7th ed.). Carolina del Norte: Pearson
Serin, R. C. & Hanby, L. J. (2009). Offender Incentives and Behavioural Management Strategies. Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada, Research Branch.