Structure & Accountability Still Matter!

Posted by Evan C. Crist, Psy.D. on 1/28/15 2:15 PM

This is the 8th of a 12 part series on Evidence Based Principles.  Subscribe to our blog and get this series and the upcoming Risk Principle Simplified series delivered right to your inbox.

Principle 5a: Establish Structure and Behavioral AccountabilityStructure & Behavioral Accountability

“I am so relieved to be in jail.” I’ve heard hundreds of offenders start an evaluation with this statement. They desperately wanted to get clean. They were motivated and ready to take change seriously. They just could not stop using long enough to create and execute a plan. Unfortunately, with greater emphasis on offender treatment, some tend to believe that structure and behavioral accountability is at best unnecessary and at worst, punitive. 

Structure includes rules, roles, and expectations. Civilized societies are civil and a society due to structure. Many offenders perform perfectly with structure. There are flawless inmates and likeable community corrections clients. While it may be related to neuropsychological deficits, one thing is clear, most offenders need structure. They crave structure but hate it. They know they need it, but resent it. (This is true for me too).

When EBP experts advocate for adopting a “treatment” mentality rather than a “law enforcement” mentality, they are not espousing that rules and consequences are unimportant. Clearly, there needs to be balance and a treatment emphasis is needed. Still, let’s not forget that our first priority is immediate community safety. This sub principle, which is not in contradiction with any of the original principles of effective intervention, was added here for two reasons: 1) When it is absent from writings, the audience infers that it is no longer important, and, in fact, may hinder rehabilitation efforts and 2) We believe treatment begins with structure and accountability. The external control is necessary to the treatment process, not opposed to it.

By definition, structure limits one’s freedom. Some individuals are able to provide their own structure. Many are not. For individuals who fail to plan, rarely schedule anything, and generally just let the day unfold, the lack of structure can be a real problem. Such individuals need external structure in order to color inside the lines. Perhaps most importantly, it is impossible to focus on changing a given behavior if you continue to engage in the behavior. Far from being punitive, providing behavioral accountability is part of the treatment process. 

Does that mean that electronic monitoring is an evidence based practice? Is frequent monitoring treatment? Does the structure of a work release program, in the absence of formal treatment lead to long term behavior change? Not unlike the therapeutic relationship, structure and behavioral accountability are necessary but not sufficient. Alone, they are unlikely to create change. Still, offender treatment programs that do not include behavioral consequences are equally unlikely to create change. The concept of accountability and treatment do not work against each other. Far from it, each needs the other.

 Key points to consider:

  • Monitoring Matters: Failing to provide structure and accountability is not an act of kindness.
  • Swift and Certain: The severity of the punishment is largely irrelevant. The key is that the consequence always occurs and occurs as close in time to the behavior as possible.

  • Predictable: When behavioral consequences are written down and provided ahead of time to an offender, it increases personal responsibility. Common practice suggests that the element of surprise in the punishment is key to its effectiveness. Actually, when the consequences are disclosed ahead of time, it increases personal responsibility. Unknown consequences result in greater risk taking and the formation of lots of excuses. When the client knows what the consequence of given action will be, they “earn” it rather than staff “issuing” it.


In our next blog in this series, we will address Principle 5b, Increase Positive Reinforcement. Subscribe to our blog and get the series delivered right to your inbox.

Evidence Based Principles: Simplified White Paper

This a 12 part series. Here are all 12 blogs in the series:

  1. An Introduction to Evidence Based Principles (EBP)
  2. EBP: Building the Therapeutic Relationship
  3. Community Corrections Interventions Must Begin with Assessment
  4. To Be or Not to Be: Framing Offender Motivation
  5. EBP: How Good is Your Aim?
  6. Discovering Values in Collaboration
  7. Practice Makes...Habit
  8. Structure & Accountability Still Matter!
  9. Catch Them Being Good!
  10. It Takes a Community to Transition an Offender
  11. What Works Anyway? Prove it!
  12. Feedback Please!
To request more information or schedule an online demonstration of our Community Corrections Software, click here. We offer integrated software and support services for Probation/Parole, Residential and Reentry programs. Our Program Foundation Platform and twelve robust modules were designed by community corrections professionals to guide organizations toward a powerful EBP implementation, relieve them of strenuous paperwork and manual processes, and enable them to focus on what matters - people! 

Topics: Community Corrections, Evidence Based Practices, Practices

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