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Treating Violent Offenders More Effectively: Alternatives to Pure Punishment

Most concepts for violence prevention are in the fields of primary and secondary prevention. However, treatment and rehabilitation of offenders is also important for a decrease of violence in societies. After some skepticism due to the 'nothing works' doctrine in the 1970s such approaches are now based on numerous evaluation studies and systematic reviews. This 'what works' evidence shows that correctional treatment is more effective than the traditional focus of criminal justice on pure punishment and deterrence (in which treatment is embedded for legal reasons). According to various meta-analyses the recidivism rates of appropriately treated violent offenders are 5-30% lower than the rates in control groups. Results on the most effective types of interventions and on more complex approaches such as the Risk-Need-Responsivity Model are briefly outlined. Of course, as in other areas of violence prevention, there are still practical and methodological problems (e.g. with regard to the treatment of sexual, young, personality disordered and domestic violence offenders). A model for a view beyond the mere content of programs will be presented. This leads to various recommendations for a further improvement of the treatment of violent offenders: Development of evidence-bases in the many countries with serious deficits in this field, widen the perspective to broader interventions systems, more attention to implementation science, more well-controlled outcome evaluations, more individualized program elements, more links to neurobiology and desistance research, more direct comparisons between community and custodial measures, and more integration of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention approaches.


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