Could Positive Reinforcement Help End Recidivism?

By Pyerse Dandridge
Author: Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp

Positive reinforcement is an important part of encouraging a constructive work ethic. Millions of people work hard at their everyday jobs, however, when there’s a lack of constructive criticism, many begin to feel like their work is unappreciated. Instead of increasing morale, an increase of mistakes are pointed out. This often leads to a change in attitude, work ethic, and dedication to the job.

This same principle can be applied to men with the potential to recidivate. Many men, after release, feel a variety of attitudes toward who they are as a person based on their criminal past. Stereotypes, profiling, exclusion, negative assumptions, and other similar attitudes are the automatic “go to” treatment of former criminals. This causes many former criminals become repeat criminals. It seems that no matter what they do, it will never be good enough.

Thus, positive reinforcement is clearly an approach to consider concerning recidivism. For these men, even the most minute form of constructive feedback can mean the difference between a life of repeated crime, and paving the way to a brighter future. Positive reinforcement could be shown by talking with the individual and showing excitement and approval for their positive actions. Those actions may be finding a job (no matter how small), volunteer work, consistency, charity work, positive attitudes, staying out of trouble, taking care of family members, etc.

When one has lost their belief in a positive life for themselves, and they feel that others have as well, it is easy to feel incapable of making changes. There are many parts of life where one can become stagnant. For example, many people have higher hopes for themselves in life. An individual may have a fairly good job in a medical office, but their real dream is to be a writer, lawyer, or even a doctor. However, with a steady paycheck available, job security, and little time to search for a new job, people often put their dreams on the backburner, and continue to live the life that’s easy. With motivation and positive words, we all can go after our dreams, rather than remain in a stagnant spot with our feet planted.

This is true for these former inmates too. What has been drilled into their heads for the duration of their incarceration, as well as their life prior to that, is what forces them to stick with what’s comfortable or with what they know. Without positive reinforcement, it’s so much easier to go back to those stagnant ways of living. By implementing positive reinforcement, these men can feel that even the small steps toward change are worth it and can brighten their lives and the lives of their loved ones.