Since the middle of the last century there has been a distinct shift in crime and policing policies – away from the idea of finding solutions to crime based around reducing things like poverty and social inequality and towards various ways of preventing or reducing crime.
There has, in other words, been a general acceptance among control agencies and criminologists that the best societies are able to do is limit the extent and effect of different types of criminal behaviour.
While most strategies for crime prevention or reduction tend, for various social and economic reasons, to be focused on those who are yet to offend, preventing reoffending once a convicted criminal has been released from prison (recidivism) has generally been a low priority in countries like Britain and the United States in recent times.
Although the British criminologist Terry Morris concluded as long ago as the 1960’s that prisons were effectively “Universities of Crime“, over the intervening years the idea of trying to rehabilitate offenders has progressively fallen by the wayside: partly because of a New Right political shift towards more-punitive forms of prison regime, whereby the primary purpose of prison is seen to be punishment, and partly for economic reasons: rehabilitation can be time-consuming and expensive.
More-recently, however, the economic and social costs of re-offending have started to reassert themselves in the light of the fact that rates of re-offending in Western societies consistently show that two-thirds (66%) of offenders subsequently reoffend within a couple of years of release from prison. This figure is particularly interesting in light of the increasing costs of incarceration:
In England and Wales, for example, the cost of keeping someone in prison for a year currently (2021) runs to close-on £50,000 while in the USA the average annual cost of incarceration was around $40,000. To put this into perspective, it would be cheaper for the British government to send young inmates to a boarding school than to lock them up in prison (although some might, somewhat controversially perhaps, argue that the two are much the same sort of thing).
There has, in this respect, been a recent revival of interest, particularly but not exclusively in the United States, in the idea of prison programs designed to help offenders avoid the prison-release-reoffend cycle: which is where the dog-training prison program comes into play – primarily, it has to be said, in the United States. Successive British governments are still ideologically committed to the “prison-as-punishment” mantra, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
I’ve put together a short semi-interactive (there are a couple of choices students can make…) PowerPoint Presentation that looks at Cooke and Farrington‘s (2016) meta-analysis of 7 studies evaluating the dog-training programs currently being used in some American states. The presentation provides students with:
- an overview of the concept of dog-training programs
- an outline of the program strengths (such as their success in cutting reoffending)
- possible reasons for the program’s success
- an outline of possible weaknesses in the program research.
The Presentation also provides an opportunity for a methodological evaluation of meta-analyses – an increasingly-useful research technique that doesn’t seem to get much current attention in A-level textbooks.