The Effectiveness of Negative Role Models in Prevention Programs

Liliana Anca Hurezan, Cristina Burcă, Paul Popa1 Arad Penitentiary

Adolescence is a psychosocial transition period in which the physical, cognitive, emotional and attitudinal components are being developed. Some of the most important factors involved are: the home environment, the peer group and the learning life models. The absence and disruptive environmental upbringing patterns usually generate behavioral and attitudinal misconducts which imply long term negative consequences on individual and group wellbeing. Romania has a lack of positive models and effective social protection and prevention services, while demanding the adoption of pro-social behavior and sanctioning the same disruptive conducts they offer. In this context, Arad Penitentiary, Arad Police Department and the local School Inspectorate choose to support the community by providing a program in which the high-school students can benefit from the encounter with real inmates. This opportunity allows inmates to pass on their own negative experience on life choices, while students can directly learn and be aware of risk real-life-situations, beyond their subjective interpretation. Using content analysis, this study examines the effectiveness of the prevention program and the impact it has on the pupils’ reported subjective perception. Effects on both pupils and inmates are analyzed and the implication for future youth delinquency prevention programs is discussed.

Keywords: youth delinquency, prevention programs, inmates, community involvement, role models.


The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the National Penitentiary Administration or of the Police Department.


Motto: “…the judgments which generate deviant behaviour are reactions to acts which can victimize another person, which seriously disturb the deviant’s close group or which strongly affect the deviant himself” (Boudon, 1997, p.448)

The practices within restorative justice concept became central figures in criminology, especially in North-America. The current crime prevention activities in Romanian governmental and community institutions are scientifically lacking support, to say the least, regarding their methodological aspects or their effectiveness assessment. Arad Penitentiary and the Police Department’s initiative offered the participants the chance to become useful for their own community, on one hand, and an opportunity to learn about and to become aware of risk real-life-situations, on the other hand. Providing the teenagers with live negative role models could generate subjective mechanisms which, hopefully, will guide them in taking pro-social decisions. Sociological juvenile delinquency theories approached the causes of the phenomenon, arguing that it is mainly based upon the poor connection between the youngster and the society. It seems that social des-insertion of young people is closely tied to some issues of the family system, the school situation, individual psychological and axiological factors. The conceptualization became useful for the understanding of the delinquency sense, but lost ground regarding its specificity. (Boudon, 1997, p.457-459) Nevertheless, restorative justice has made active steps. Similar to this project (“The Power of An Example” n.a.), juvenile delinquency prevention programs are found up to the 1970s in the US and European North-Western countries (eg. 1972, la Rahway (NJ) Prison, cf. Choices And Consequences - Offenders as a Resource for Crime Prevention APC 22 CA (2002), p. 2) and most of them concluded that the prevention of crime can be correlated to the certainty of sanctions rather than to its severity. Some authors believe that this type of programs is not efficient as it primarily addresses youngsters outside a risk zone. All this being said, the prevention programs continued – the inmates were continuously regarded as deviant behaviour prevention resources – moreover, the programs were extended in several states. In other approaches, (e.g. Navajo Peacekeeping model) the teenagers’ families were involved, as a balance factor. Some (including Romanians) experimented and organized meetings between offenders and their victims’ extended families, as a recuperative process for all parties. Even if this is ethically arguable, spectacular results were recorded. Meta-analysis research in this field (The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis, Jeff Latimer, Craig Dowden, Danielle Muise, The Prison Journal, Vol. 85 No. 2, June 2005, p.127-144) underlined the importance of selecting the participants voluntarily, opening up and having face-to-face meetings – as the entire process in based on the principle that crime is more a violation of a person and a human relation than it is of a law. Studies have proven that the efficient programs are the ones who: 1/ allow offenders to take responsibility for their crimes and 2/ participants can meet in a secure environment (Llewellyn and Howse (1998), apud Latimer, Dowden, Muise, 2005). Program assessment research took into consideration the imperious need to define all the concepts in a unitary manner. Taking into consideration the satisfaction of participating in prevention programs, the victims of the crimes reported a high scores, indicating a positive outcome, as the offenders only reported moderate and low scores on this aspect. When assessing the level of responsibility acknowledgment for the committed crime, results indicate a high level of compliance on the offenders’ side, compared to other reinsertion used methods. (Latimer, Dowden, Muise, 2005) 2

Actually, many studies proved that restorative justice programs have been more efficient than classic approaches, but also limited the findings on a selection bias of the method: volunteering excludes different important categories on both sides from the start. On the „civil” participants’ perspective, some specialists (Young Men and Violence Prevention, Margaret Cameron, Alcohol, Young Persons and Violence, Paul Williams, Australian Institute of Criminology, Research and Public Policy Series, No. 35, 2001) argued that pluri-disciplinary alternatives are offered, the usage of different methods and scopes in approaching delinquency can be useful (school prevention programs, multi-systemic family therapy, modification of police perspectives in tackling crime, informal interventions) and that complementary methods can be used along side the classic ones. Considering the actual issues in Romania, the local Police Department studied juvenile deliquency in Arad county. The results indicated an increasing number of underaged people (14 to 18 years old) which commited crimes durring 2008-2009. Among those crimes, the most frequent ones were theft, burglary and other missdeminors. Based on these results and on international reasearch regarding restorative justice, the need for juvenile delinquency prevention programs for pupils became obvious and using inmates as negative models was one of the identified solutions. Thus, Arad Penitentiary and the local Police Department developed such a project in order to answer the identified needs. The purpose of the project Power of An Example is informing and raising the awareness of the pupils in Arad county in the matter of the consequences of criminal behavior, by directly using the inmates in the prevention process. Also, another objective is to reduce the prison population stigma and marginalization. Weakly, groups of 10 to 12 pupils, acompanied into the prison by psychologists, met with 5 selected inmates and discussed criminal behaviour, decisional factors and the social and individual cousequences of this type of conduct. The inmate selection process included: volunteering, acknowledgment and personal responsibility of their crimes, willingness for openly and authentically sharing their criminal experience, as well as the age they had at the time the crime was committed (minor or young adult). At the end of each meeting questionnaires were applied, in order to asses the efficiency of the project. This study used content analysis to investigate the pupils’ evaluations reported at the end of every session, as a measure for testing the programs’ utility. Based on the observation during the sessions, the following hypotheses were drawn up: 1./ The expected results of the project are found in the conclusions presented by pupils. 2./ The pupils’ representations of the prison environment include negative evaluations regarding the detention facilities, without the brutalizing effect on inmates’ disposition. 3./ The pupils’ representations of the prison environment are mainly emotional, rather than rational. Methodology Sample The content of 75 questionnaires, representing evaluations of the project The Power of An Example, completed at the end of every session between November 2010 – March 2011, was analysed. The questionnaire contains 6 questions. Three of them are closed questions which inquire about sex and age of the participants, as well as the utility of the meeting. The other three are open questions, and they refer to the acquired data the inmates transmited, as well as the pupil’s representations of inmates and prison environment. 3

Coding procedure At the end of each session, the questionnaires were transcribed. The coding unit chosen to capture the data was the item, because the variations within analyzed items were small and unimportant. Specific coding categories were developed for each hypothesis: H1 – 4 coding categories – awarness, informing, reducing stigma, meaningless; H2 - 5 coding categories – physical characteristics of the prison environment, general characteristics of the prison environment, negative psychological consequences of imprisonment, positive psychological consequences of imprisonment, inmates’ characteristics and abstract representations; H3 – 2 coding categories – emotional representations and rational representations. Each category has been defined and relevant words or phrases were given as examples. The coding process included three independent coders, which analysed the content, based on the previous categories. Proportional reduction in loss (PRL) reliability measure was used in order to establish the interrater agreement (Rust & Cooil, 1995). All three calculated values scored over 0.94, indicating a high level of agreement between the interraters. Regarding the debatable items, the decision criteria was given by two raters consenting. Measurement Hypothesis 1 Four coding categories were developed to test this hypothesis, defined by the overlapping of the expected results and pupils’ reports: awarness – pupils’ reports containing emotional references to inmates’ personal experiences (I wish never to be here, inmates have lost important things, prisoners suffer), informing – pupils’ reports regarding risk elements for deviant behavior and items associated with prosocial conduct (to avoid doing the same mistakes, changing peer group, take the right decision, it’s important to have positive role models in our life), reducing stigma – realistic representations of inmates (they are onest and opened to communication, they changed in prison, they are sorry for their actions), meaningless – items which were very abstract and too general. Hypothesis 2 In order to analyze pupils’ representations of the prison environment, five coding categories were established: physical characteristics of the prison environment – four walls, closed, poor facilities, bars - general characteristics of the prison environment – generic and personal evaluations (ugly and hard, a place where you are not allowed to do what you want, separations, danger) - negative psychological consequences of imprisonment – perceived negative impact on inmates (torment, terror, loneliness, sadness, anxiety) - positive psychological consequences of imprisonment - perceived positive impact on inmates (open-minded, sincer, well-behaved) - inmates’ characteristics – aspects regarding inmates’ personal traits (polite people, devastated lives) - abstract representations – items without specification or any reference to inmates ant prison environment (everything, a lot of things, nothing) 4

Hypothesis 3 Data regarding the content of representation reported by pupils were coded into two categories: 1./ Emotional representations – items regarding affective states (pity, terror, pain, fear, sadness, loss). 2./ Rational representations – items regarding data with low emotional references (inmates depend on others, they are open-minded, security, poor facilities). Data analysis After analysing the data form the 75 questionnaires, 187 items were considered relevant for H1, 142 items for H2 and 139 items for H3. The following data was recorded after testing the degree in which the program results overlap pupils’ reports: relevant factors associated with antisocial behavior (40,1%), realistic assessments of inmates (30,5%), reports containing emotional references to inmates’ personal experiences (19,8%) and unspecified items (9,6%).
Association between pupils' reports and expected results

100 80 60 40 20 0 1 19.8 9.6 40.1 30.5
Awarness Informing Reducing stigma Unspecified

Image 1

The colected data for assessing the degree to which pupil’s representations of prison settings include negative assessments of the carceral facilities, regardless of the physical characteristics of the environment indicated that: most of them refer to the negative effect of imprisonment on inmates (42, 25%), a large number refer to subjective traits of the establishment (30,25%), 12% make a reference to the physical aspects of the prison, 5,63% are about the positive impact detention has on inmates and only 4,93% are unspecific.
Reported representations of prison environment Physical characteristics of prison setting General characteristics of prison setting 42.25 40 20 0 1 11.97 30.28 5.63 Negative consequences of imprisonment Positive consequences of imprisonmen Inmates' characteristics 4.93 4.93 Unspecific items

100 80 60

Image 2


23% of the pupils’ representations of the prison environment have a rational content, whereas 77% have an emotional one.
content of pupils' reported representations of prison environmnent

2 77%

1 23%

Image 3

Discussions and conclusion After analysing the pupils’ assessments of this program, the obtained results indicated that their experience during the sessions had an important impact, especially at an informational level (40,1%) and on the way inmates are perceived (30,5%). Moreover, pupils reported the assimilation of a large amount of information about deviant behavior and also about the factors correlating with prosocial conduct. This indicates that the current program, with the pupils-inmates interaction and the process of sharing experiences between them, has a positive impact, thus confirming the usefulness of inmates as role models. The offenders’ life-stories underline the severe negative consequences an antisocial behavior can have on the long run, fact which usually triggers an emotional alert state about self involvment in something similar. Once triggered, this state also generates a rise in the pupils’ awareness levels, making them realize the risk/protective factors associated with delinquent/ prosocial conduct. Furthermore, adolescents reported a relatively realistic perspective on the inmates they encountered, and described them as normal human beings who became prisoners due to their deviant behavior. As mentioned above, their conclusions seems to acknowledge a difference between the person and his/her behavior, with real chances of being the premises for reducing stigma regarding inmates issues, agenda which is presently only at a stated level. The complexity of this process explains the reason for which the empathic references to prisoners are lower (19,8%) than the other presented categories. Nevertheless, the powerfull emotional content of these reports can be exploited in order to develop a realistic image of the prison population and demystify the penitentiary space, aspect also supported by the low number of abstract representations reported (9,6%). Also, this fact shows that the emotional perspective has a semnificative impact on the community, even surpassing a declarative level. In this manner, the described activities bring 6

forth double benefits, both for the community and the prison environment, offering the latter the support it needs to truly become a community service. If tackling the pupils’ representation of the prison environment, they include negative assessments of the living conditions facilities in prison, but the hypothesis is partially confirmed, as the adolescents reported a brutalizing effect of incarceration on inmates wellbeing. Thus, the youngsters refer generally and negatively to the prison setting, for instance when speaking about the inner limitations, the hard life, communicational and relational flows (30,28%), in comparison with the physical ones (11,97%). The finding proves that direct experience with prison life generates strong emotional interpretations, undermining the material aspects even if more obvious and easier to observe. This type of content is extended on inmates as well, reflecting a powerfull impact on the sentenced at a psychological level (42,25%), in comparison to the positive influence of the environment (5,63%). If we think of the conclusions for the first hypothesis and of the individual inmate characteristics’ data (4,93%), pupils’ representations do not necessarily mean empathy, being primarely supported by the projections and the personal interpretations of the environment. In the line of the previous discussion, the representations of prison environment refer to an emotional aspect (77%), whereas the rational content is much lower (23%). A possible explanation of this phenomenon relies on the difference between paralel cultures: the experience and inner culture in which the individual lives – presented by the media and an exterior prison culture, vaguely perceived, poorly known. The perception of poorly known experiences is emotionally sustained, being based on the personal projections of the object and on the stereotypes promoted in the popular culture. The direct contact with reality and its sudden character, without any transition, can cause primarily emotional responses. Considering the construction of the received message, the treatment and the achitecture of the prison setting, we can assume the filter mechanism of the individual is mostly emotional and defence stimulating. Our study is limited in that the pupils’ presence was based primarely on their will and the teachers’ selection process, fact which can alter the relevance of the sample for the general population. In addition, the data was colected in special circumstances (in a prison setting, under the supervision of the Police representant and the teachers), possibly influencing the outcome because of the desirability factor. The results must be interpreted in the light of the negative first contact with a special environment, thus being susceptible to significant change after repeted similar experiences. Another bias may come from the lack of pre-test data, therefore making it difficult to observe and analyse the possible modification in pupils’ representations, both at a declarative and procedural level. In summary, this analysis reveals and broadens the perspectives on prevention programs and their effectiveness in our country. Future research can also consider the motivation of the participants, as well as a multilevel analysis of representations for clarifying the usefullness of this type of programs. From the perspective of the reintegration system, investigating the effects on inmates can prove to be necessary in order to improve the existing agenda.


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