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Program Profile: Thinking for a Change

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on May 04, 2012

Program Summary

This is a cognitive–behavioral curriculum developed by the National Institute of Corrections, which was designed to change the criminogenic thinking of offenders. The program includes cognitive restructuring, social skills development, and development of problem-solving skills. The program is rated Promising. Offenders in the treatment group were found to be less likely to recidivate, compared with control group offenders, at the 6-month follow-up. This difference was statistically significant.

Program Description

Program Goals
Thinking for a Change (T4C) is a cognitive–behavioral curriculum developed by the National Institute of Corrections that concentrates on changing the criminogenic thinking of offenders. T4C is a cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) program that includes cognitive restructuring, social skills development, and the development of problem-solving skills.

Target Population
The program may be delivered to a variety of offenders, including adults and juveniles, probationers, prison and jail inmates, and offenders in aftercare or on parole (however, studies that have examined program effectiveness of T4C so far have included only samples of adult probationers).

Program Theory
T4C combines cognitive restructuring theory and cognitive skills theory to help individuals take control of their lives by taking control of their thinking (Bush, et al. 2011). The foundation of T4C is the use of CBT principles throughout the group sessions. There is an extensive body of research that shows cognitive–behavioral programming significantly reduces recidivism of offenders (Landenberger and Lipsey 2005).

Program Components
T4C stresses interpersonal communication skills development and confronts thought patterns that can lead to problematic behaviors. The program has three components: cognitive self-change, social skills, and problem-solving skills. Lessons on cognitive self-change provide participants with a thorough process for self-reflection concentrated on uncovering antisocial thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. Social skills lessons prepare participants to engage in prosocial interactions based on self-understanding and awareness of the impact that their actions may have on others. Finally, problem-solving skills integrate the two other components and provide participants with a step-by-step process to address challenges and stressful situations they may encounter.

The program is divided into 25 lessons (each lasting approximately 1 to 2 hours), with the capacity to extend the program indefinitely. The curriculum is designed to be implemented with small groups of 8 to 12 offenders. Each lesson teaches offenders important social skills (such as active listening and asking appropriate questions) as well as more complex restructuring techniques (such as recognizing the types of thinking that get them into trouble and understanding the feelings of others). Most sessions include didactic instruction, role-play illustrations of concepts, a review of previous lessons, and homework assignments in which participants practice the skills learned in the group lesson.

Examples of some of the lessons are Active Listening Skill; Thinking Controls Our Behavior; Paying Attention to Our Thinking; Recognize Risk; Use New Thinking; Understanding the Feelings of Others; Apologizing; Responding to Anger; Introduction to Problem Solving; Stop and Think; and State the Problem.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Lowenkamp and colleagues (2009) found that 23 percent of offenders who received the Thinking for a Change (T4C) curriculum recidivated, compared with 36 percent of the control group. This difference was statistically significant.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
The 2009 study by Lowenkamp and colleagues used a quasi-experimental design to examine the effectiveness of the Thinking for a Change (T4C) curriculum. The study looked at a “real world” test of T4C, because the curriculum was implemented by line staff in a community corrections agency, as opposed to being piloted by program developers. The community corrections agency was the Tippecanoe County (Indiana) probation department. Offenders were referred to the T4C program from the court (as a condition of their probation sentence) or from their probation officer as a sanction for violation behavior.

The study sample included 217 offenders placed on probation for a felony offense. There were 121 treatment cases and 96 comparison cases. To be included in the treatment group, offenders on probation needed to have been referred to T4C and must have attended at least one session. The comparison group included offenders placed on probation during the same period but who were not referred to T4C. Cases were also required to have at least a 6-month follow-up period to be included in the study. For the treatment group, the 6-month follow-up began once they left the T4C program, while the control group follow-up period was based on the time they began probation. The overall study sample was 71 percent male and 84 percent white, and on average was 33.5 years old. There were no significant differences between the groups.

The primary outcome of interest was recidivism. Recidivism was defined as a dichotomous variable, indicating whether the offender received an arrest for a new criminal charge (misdemeanor or felony offense). Data was retrieved from county and local databases. However, the measure of recidivism was limited to offenses that were reported only in Tippecanoe County.

A risk measure was created for each offender, based on factors used in prior analyses by the study authors. Each offender was coded on seven factors based on file information. These factors included prior arrests, prior prison commitments, prior community supervision violations, prior drug problems, prior alcohol problems, whether they were employed at arrest, and education. These factors were summed together to give a risk score that ranged from 0 to 7, and three categories (low, moderate, and high risk) were created based on the composite scores.

Bivariate analysis compared differences between the treatment and control groups in the proportion of offenders who recidivated. A multivariate model was developed to adjust for potential confounding factors, such as significant differences between the groups in risk scores and time-at-risk at baseline. Logistic regression was used to estimate the odds of recidivism for both groups. Based on the results of these models, the recidivism rates were adjusted for the treatment and control groups. The authors conducted subgroup analyses on age and risk category.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Information about training opportunities for facilitators of Thinking for a Change is available on the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) website (, which provides Thinking for a Change (T4C) Basic Facilitator and Advanced Practicum (Train the Trainer in T4C) training.

There is a scripted manual available for free on the NIC Web site. The manual explicitly states the content and objectives of each of the sessions and has gone through numerous revisions over the years. A link to the latest version (Version 3.1) is available at
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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Lowenkamp and colleagues (2003) conducted subgroup analyses on age and risk category and group membership. Findings indicated that across groups, younger and higher risk offenders were more likely to be arrested for a new offense during the follow-up period, compared with older and lower risk offenders. These differences were statistically significant.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Lowenkamp, Christopher T., Dana Hubbard, Matthew D. Makarios, and Edward J. Latessa. 2009. “A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation of Thinking for a Change: A ‘Real World’ Application.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 36(2):137–46.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Bickle, Gayle. N.d. An Intermediate Outcome Evaluation of the Thinking for a Change Program. Columbus, Ohio: Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Bureau of Research and Evaluation.

Bush, Jack, Barry Glick, and Juliana Taymans. 1997. Thinking for a Change: Integrated Cognitive Behavior Change Program. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections.

Bush, Jack, Barry Glick, Juliana Taymans, and Michael Guevara. 2011. Thinking for a Change: Integrated Cognitive Behavior Change Program Version 3.1. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections.

Golden, Lori Suzanne, Robert J. Gatchel, and Melissa Anne Cahill. 2006. “Evaluating the Effectiveness of the National Institute of Corrections’ “Thinking for a Change” Program Among Probationers.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 43(1):55–73. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Landenberger, Nana A., and Mark W. Lipsey. 2005. “The Positive Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Programs for Offenders: A Meta Analysis of Factors Associated with Effective Treatment.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 1:451–76.

Milkman, Harvey, and Kenneth Wanberg. 2007. Cognitive–Behavioral Treatment: A Review and Discussion for Corrections Professionals. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Moderate- and High-Risk Adult Offenders
This is a problem-focused, therapeutic approach that attempts to help people identify and change dysfunctional beliefs, thoughts, and patterns of behavior that contribute to their problems. For adult offenders, CBT teaches them how cognitive deficits, distortion, and flawed thinking processes can lead to criminal behavior. The practice is rated Promising for reducing crime committed by moderate- and high-risk adult offenders.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Adult Reentry Programs
This practice involves correctional programs that focus on the transition of individuals from prison into the community. Reentry programs involve treatment or services that have been initiated while the individual is in custody and a follow-up component after the individual is released. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Rehabilitation Programs for Adult Offenders
This practice includes programs that are designed to reduce recidivism among adult offenders by improving their behaviors, skills, mental health, social functioning, and access to education and employment. Offenders may become participants in rehabilitation programs during multiple points in their involvement with the criminal justice system. This practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism among adult offenders.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Cognitive Behavioral Treatment, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Group Home, Probation/Parole Services

Targeted Population: High Risk Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Matthew D. Makarios
Assistant Professor
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
900 Wood Road
Kenosha WI 53141