Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
- This strategy can help prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
- Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
An evidence-based psychological treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment that helps individuals change risky patterns of thinking or behavior. In a criminal-legal context, CBT can be used to reduce the likelihood that individuals will re-offend by helping them identify and cope with thought patterns that may lead them to engage in criminal activity. Often, CBT is paired with other support services as part of a broader re-entry or violence reduction program.
Appropriate for a range of settings and populations: CBT may be delivered in a range of criminal-legal settings, including both institutional and community-based facilities. Depending on the program’s goals, it may be oriented toward individuals who are currently incarcerated or toward formerly-incarcerated individuals who are at-risk of reoffending. Typically, CBT programs are facilitated by a licensed therapist or trained paraprofessional.
Tailored to individual needs: CBT can be used to improve a number of behaviors that reduce the risk of engaging in criminal behavior, like improving empathy, deliberate reasoning, and impulse control. As part of CBT, individuals may engage in role playing, learn coping skills for stressful situations, practice relaxation techniques, among other strategies.
Evidence and impacts
Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps; the second-highest level of evidence by the National Institute of Justice
Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that cognitive behavioral therapy for at-risk individuals is a well-supported strategy for reducing recidivism and crime.
- A 2018 systematic review identified CBT for offenders as a scientifically-supported strategy for reducing crime and recidivism.
Best practices in implementation
- Create a referral network: In some jurisdictions, communication between law enforcement, social services, and other organizations that work with individuals at risk of reoffending is fragmented. By convening key stakeholders, an agency implementing a CBT program can educate other organizations on eligibility requirements, program goals, and referral options. This type of outreach can ensure that individuals who do not interact with the implementing agency still have access to CBT.
Hire staff who can build relationships: For CBT to be effective, the therapist or paraprofessional delivering the program must establish a positive rapport with their client. As such, implementing agencies may prioritize hiring staff who have experience working with the target population, understand and have connections to the neighborhoods that participants live in, or share lived experiences with participants.
Develop relationships with community organizations: While CBT focuses on addressing psychological factors that may contribute to an individual’s risk of reoffending, it does not address broader social or economic factors that may also increase that risk. As such, implementing agencies may partner with other community organizations to provide participants with other support services.
Use quality assurance mechanisms: To maximize effectiveness, CBT programs should collect data to monitor and validate their impact. Hiring well-trained providers and offering ongoing professional development (e.g., coaching, training) can also improve program quality.