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Original Articles and Reviews

What Doesn’t Work to Reduce Reoffending?

A Review of Reviews of Ineffective Interventions for Adults Convicted of Crimes

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000323

Abstract. This paper describes a review of meta-analyses and systematic reviews, to explore what appears to be ineffective in reducing reoffending among people convicted of crime. The focus of this review is on secondary or tertiary crime prevention initiatives, concentrating on interventions aiming to reduce offending among adults serving sentences in custody or the community. Twenty-one reviews met the inclusion criteria, covering interventions aiming to reduce violence, domestic violence, sexual offending, drug misuse, driving under the influence, and general reoffending. Fourteen of these reviews identified interventions that have no impact on criminal recidivism, and three identified interventions that in at least one study were actively harmful by increasing the risk of recidivism of participants. Findings suggest that ineffective interventions may comprise drug testing as a stand-alone strategy, insight-oriented and behavioral interventions for sexual offending, brief interventions for alcohol misuse, and in prison in the longer-term, agonist pharmacological treatment alone for drug misuse. Those interventions that had demonstrated, in at least one of the evaluations reviewed, that they were associated with negative behaviors were court-mandated treatment for domestic violence, boot camps, incarceration-based agonist drug treatment and custodial (when compared to noncustodial) sanctions. Taken together with the findings of previous reviews in this area, the authors identify features of interventions which are likely to be ineffective in reducing reoffending. Explanations for these interventions’ likely failure to reduce reoffending draw on criminological and social psychological research and behavioral science. The authors also note that this review may not include all relevant evidence and findings should therefore be considered indicative.

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