“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Having hope can be the one thing that will help prevent a criminal from ending up back in prison.
It seems simple but it is an idea that has yet to catch on in the field of criminology. A research report published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, “Is Hope Related to Criminal Behaviour in Offenders?” looked at the relationship between an inmate’s level of hope and criminal behavior. They found that inmates who had higher levels of hope were less likely to reoffend.
This research shows that more can be done for former inmates in order to help them succeed.
Hope is a difficult concept to pin down, but Krystsle Martin and Lana Stermac of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada wanted to examine whether or not hope was at all related to the risk of committing future criminal acts.
Today correctional facilities rely on what is termed risk assessment, and according to the authors, are focused on factors that cannot be changed while someone is in jail. The list of risk factors include past criminal behavior, age at first contact with the law, decision making skills, employment history, and substance abuse history.
The researchers’ theory is that hope, too, can predict risk. They asked two questions 1) will having or not having hope determine whether or not someone will reoffend and 2) whether or not levels of hope are different for women and men.
The study participants included 100 inmates, 50 men and 50 women 18 years and older in the provincial jails in Ontario, Canada.
The researcher gave each participant a series of assessments that were designed to find out how much hope, optimism, problem-solving skills, and focus they had toward achieving goals.
The results provided two outcomes; 1) women inmates tended to have less hope than their male counterparts, and 2) people that have lower levels of hope were more likely to become involved in criminal activity. Correlation, of course, isn’t causation – these results just shows a relationship between hope and reoffending, not that having no hope causes reoffending. Nonetheless it’s important news.
Consider that when one feels less hopeful they have less motivation to change, making it is easier for them to retreat back and stay in their current way of thinking and acting. Less hope means less sense that another future is possible. In the case of these inmates having no hope is basically a painful and punishing rut.
Inmates who didn’t believe they could get out of that rut were more likely to head back down that all too familiar path of crime.
Hope can be hard to come by in prisons. The State of California is under federal investigation for prison overcrowding. Hundreds of men and women are literally stacked on top of each other in abysmal conditions that some would classify as inhumane. Can’t imagine this is an environment that would inspire hope in anyone – but we are resilient beings and hope may still be present even in the smallest amount.
This research study has shown the potential risk of losing hope. The clinical implications are clear and land squarely in the hands of psychologists and correctional social workers. The presence of hope in an individual can be the force that moves them away from old paths that have lead them nowhere. Any rehabilitation work that focuses on nurturing hope, such as strengths based program interventions, may change a life for the better in the long run.
— Makenna Berry