It’s a challenge for those who have been paroled to readjust to life after a jail sentence, and it is especially difficult when they are also trying to overcome a substance abuse problem. A study from Rhode Island Hospital suggests that using collaborative behavioral management could decrease substance abuse among “non-hard drug” users, and specifically convicted marijuana users.

Researchers used a clinical trial called “Step ‘n Out” in six parole offices in five states to determine whether behavioral management would aid parolees in remaining drug free and:

“[T]he researchers developed a system of ‘bridge reinforcement’ to provide incentives for good behavior. Weekly over 12 weeks, officers, treatment counselors and clients worked together to agree on a behavioral contract in which there were three target behaviors. If the client met the behaviors, then they were rewarded through a system of points that led to positive social reinforcers or material reinforcers like gift cards. A computer program helped track and manage the points and reinforcers. The motto of the study was ‘Catching People Doing Things Right’ because the clients now had a reason to report their successes and the parole officers to recognize them.”

The researchers found this approach was especially effective with marijuana users, who, researchers note, make up a significant portion of individuals arrested for drug use.

“Since the majority of drug violation arrests in the U.S. are for marijuana, these findings have important implications for the management of a substantial proportion of parolees,” said study leader Peter D. Friedmann. “The study shows that an intervention grounded in behavioral science is feasible and effective in real-world correctional settings.”

He believes the study results suggest that a behavioral approach to community corrections could reduce drug use and future incarcerations.

“Because of the so-called War on Drugs, an unprecedented number of people have been put in prison for drug use, and the great majority of them return to the community,” Friedmann said. “Community reentry is a difficult period – having a criminal record makes it hard to get a job, and you usually return to the same environment you came from with the same people and temptations. Thus, a large proportion of drug-involved ex-offenders return to drugs and crime.”

Source: Lifespan

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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