The Beauty of Change is Revealed When We Release Our Resistance to It
Welcome! If you are on probation or parole, or if you have a loved one on probation or parole, you have come to the right place. After reviewing our home page, you should be feeling some curiosity and some hope. Haven't read our HOME page yet? Please click on the "HOME" button and take some time to read the information there under "For People on Probation or Parole" to get an introduction.
You will also find it VERY helpful to look at our ABOUT US page right now. It will tell you the story of Ascend and its philosophy. You will likely feel better just reading the story! That page will also tell you a little about Christine and Toni who are criminal defense attorneys and are the founders of Ascend, United Ladies of Justice and Humans Advancing Together.
You may also want to look at www.ascendprogram.com to understand a bit about our successful Ascend program. There are videos there featuring Ascend students. Watching their videos will tell you more about Ascend than we ever could. Our students are AMAZING. They are resilient and resourceful. They are our inspiration! If you are reading this website, we suspect you are like them. You may be struggling but you are working hard and striving for a better life. Getting the RIGHT information about the criminal system - and the tools it takes to make positive change - is the FIRST STEP. THIS IS YOUR FIRST STEP - RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. You should be proud!
The teachings in Ascend are being put into workbook form so that you or your loved one can get some of the life changing Ascend information even if you cannot attend the program. The workbook, called Choosing Freedom, will soon be available on the United Ladies of Justice website. Be on the lookout for the upcoming website (www.unitedladiesofjustice.org) so that you can get your copy as soon as they are available!
If you read the HOME page - you know that we promised you some vital, life-changing information on something called "criminogenic risk factors." We are excited to share this information with you and it is the TIP OF THE ICEBERG of the information offered in the Choosing Freedom workbook! To make things easy for you - we are putting the entire article on risk factors here on this webpage. It was written by Toni White, criminal defense attorney and co-founder of Ascend, United Ladies of Justice and Humans Advancing Together. She and Christine are cheering for you as you make this life transition and they cannot wait to share even more of the RIGHT information with you.
It is with our warmest wishes that we tell you to enjoy the article:
Getting Out and Staying Out!
Knowledge and Management of Criminogenic Risk Factors
By: Toni White, J.D. (Co-Founder and Co-Director of Ascend, United Ladies of Justice and Humans Advancing Together)
A key puzzle piece in avoiding a return to jail, prison or probation is knowing how to address the sneaky predictors of crime: Criminogenic Risk Factors.
“Criminogenic risk factors” is a fancy term with a simple definition. Criminogenic risk factors are factors that make a person more likely to commit a crime. There are dynamic and static risk factors. Static risk factors are factors which we cannot change such as age or criminal history. Dynamic risk factors are quite different. Dynamic risk factors are factors that we CAN change. This is where the magic happens!
The subject of criminogenic risk factors is taught to criminal justice researchers, probation and corrections officers and treatment providers. Anyone in the world of re-entry and treatment should know what the term means.
At Ascend, however, we believe that a very important group has been left out. We believe that people who have been through the criminal justice system need to be well versed in the science of criminogenic risk factors; after all – they have the most to lose and the most to gain!
One of the reasons that Christine and I co-founded Ascend is that we wanted to teach people effective ways in which they could unlock the mystery of the dreadful cycle of recidivism (recidivism is the fancy word for “reoffending”.) Christine and I both practice in criminal defense. While Christine has used her law degree to work at the legislature and in other areas of law, I have focused my practice solely on criminal defense for the last 16 years.
When I learned about criminogenic risk factors as part of the drafting of the curriculum for Ascend, I was astonished that this information was not made common knowledge in the trenches of criminal defense. The probation officers introduce the concept at sentencing, of course, and the judge may have knowledge of the topic but the attorneys, and more importantly, the clients are not routinely taught the concept of criminogenic risk factors. We changed all that at Ascend. If you are an Ascend student, or you buy the workbook CHOOSING FREEDOM that will be offered through the United Ladies of Justice website, you will hear about criminogenic risk factors.
Knowledge of the concept of criminogenic risk factors, and methods on how to lower the risk factors, are crucial tools in avoiding re-offending. As such, the people going through the system need to be very well acquainted with the factors so that they can see the big picture and work toward positive change.
What is interesting about criminogenic risk factors is that they are factors that we instinctively know would lead to crime. What was new to me, however, as I learned about criminogenic risk factors, was the concept that there is a LIST and that this LIST of factors is so predictive that it is used routinely in academia, probation departments, jails, prisons and treatment programs. This list of factors is backed by research that has shown it to be reliable. Anyone attempting to avoid a return to jail or prison would be foolish to turn a blind eye to these valuable indicators.
You may be thinking: “Enough suspense, Toni! Tell us the factors!” I just wanted to make sure you were really excited to learn these nuggets of information before I revealed them.
The dynamic criminogenic risk factors that we teach in Ascend are:
- Anti-social network
- Anti-social beliefs
- Family dysfunction
- Drug and/or alcohol addiction
- Poor impulse control
- Lack of career and/or education
Let’s analyze these factors one at a time:
With the exception of anti-social network, the factors are in no particular order. Anti-social network, however, is the NUMBER ONE reason that someone re-offends. That is something that deserves attention and emphasis: anti-social network is the NUMBER ONE reason that someone reoffends.
What is an “anti-social network?” An anti-social network is a group consisting of family or friends (a network) that commit crime or create an environment where dysfunctional, unlawful or unhealthy behaviors and situations are common.
Getting out of an anti-social network is A LOT easier said than done. Not only is there our common human need for familiarity and companionship but we also tend to be loyal to people with whom we have gone through difficult times. The task becomes more challenging when the anti-social person is a mother, sibling, romantic partner, lifelong friend, employer or coworker. Imagine how much the level of difficulty increases when the person you depend on for survival is anti-social (i.e. the person letting you stay in their home or providing you with money while you are unemployed). Walking away from an anti-social network also leaves many people with NO ONE ELSE. Isolation is the only other option and isolation will only work for a limited period of time.
Ascend not only problem solves with students as they take on the challenge of cutting off their anti-social network but provides, through its classroom environment, a pro-social network. A pro-social network is a group of people that encourage you to be healthy, functional, law abiding and thriving and who model that behavior in their own lives.
Many people think that they can keep hanging out with their anti-social network because they are determined that they, themselves, are not going to do anything illegal. They rely on their willpower! While this is a logical, common sense approach, it will ultimately fail. The reason is because willpower will not overcome the issues created by an anti-social network. These issues are addressed in Ascend. One of the major considerations that most people do not know has to do with how the law works.
Ascend, developed by criminal defense attorneys, has entire classes dedicated to teaching law. The laws of conspiracy, accomplice liability and constructive possession guarantee that those who hang out long enough in an anti-social network will return to jail or prison regardless of whether they, themselves, believed that they were participating in a criminal behavior or intended to do something illegal.
To anyone reading this who has survived being charged and convicted in the criminal system, I have one message for you to hear loud and clear: Your anti-social network of today will be your co-defendants at some point in the future.
The anti-social network can be made up of people about whom we care deeply. It can include people that have stood by us for our whole lives. It can include people we would like to keep in our lives “if only they would change” and “do better.” Ascend approaches this issue not with judgement (“those people are bad!” for example) but with a single question:
Regardless of how much we want this person in our life, does our association with them make it more or less likely that we end up having illegal activity, law enforcement and incarceration in our future?
The science of criminogenic risk factors provides the answer. Anti-social network is the NUMBER ONE factor that predicts re-arrest for a reason.
What are “anti-social beliefs?” These are beliefs that lead us toward the commission of crime, dysfunction and unhealthy behaviors. Ascend teaches in depth about this subject but an example of anti-social beliefs would be as follows:
ANTI-SOCIAL BELIEF: “My child needs diapers. I’m broke. I’ll steal some from K-Mart. They are a big corporation – no one will miss them.” (Short term, short cut thinking)
PRO-SOCIAL BELIEF: “My child will go back into foster care if I get caught stealing. I wouldn’t want someone to steal from me even if I were rich. Stealing from corporations makes the prices go up for all of us. I need to solve this problem another way.”
ANTI-SOCIAL BELIEF: “I would be able to pay my fine if my boss didn’t fire me for being late!” (Failing to recognize that our tardiness caused our loss of job versus us being victimized by an unreasonable boss)
PRO-SOCIAL BELIEF: “I am in control of my own destiny. I can solve the problem of being late by planning better in the future. It is something I am going to work on. I need to call or visit the court clerk’s office to see what options there are for me to deal with my fine while I look for another job.”
These are simplistic examples. Ascend goes deeper with the students by teaching the science behind criminal thinking styles.
While it may be easy to see how anti-social friends/family members and anti-social beliefs predict crime, the link between family dysfunction is not immediately clear. It becomes apparent, however, when we start to follow the path of destruction that is often caused by family dysfunction.
John Doe has been out of the gang lifestyle and out of the drug trade for 12 years. He obtained his truck driving license 10 years ago, purchased a home, married a pro-social woman and had children. He wanted to provide more security for the family so he started working more hours and purchased a rental home. John Doe is doing fantastic!
All of his work hours begin to put a strain on his marriage. Instead of going to counseling or working through the problems, he ignores them and simply works more hours. The tension in the home worsens until his wife eventually files for divorce. John Doe is devastated.
As he watches his family life fall apart, he begins drinking again to deal with the depression in spite of the fact that he was a recovering alcoholic. A neighbor of his, who he has previously avoided, sees that he is living alone in the home and invites him over for dinner.
The neighbor is active in the gang lifestyle and John Doe sees the red flags but believes that if he just has drinks with the neighbor once in a while that things will be okay. The neighbor eventually learns of John Doe’s former gang life and begins asking him to transport some drugs for him. John Doe tells the neighbor many times that he is not into that lifestyle anymore.
One night, after an argument with his ex-wife over the phone, John Doe picks up neighbor’s phone call. Neighbor is bugging him again to transport drugs. The gang needs a driver to pick up a one-time shipment of drugs. John wants to get the neighbor off of his back so he blurts out his cousin’s name and says to contact him. John Doe’s cousin is active in the gang lifestyle. John Doe hoped that this would be the last of his problems with his neighbor.
Months later, federal authorities show up at John Doe’s house with an arrest warrant and arrest him for conspiracy to distribute drugs. It turns out that neighbor’s phone was wiretapped and that John Doe walked himself into the conspiracy when he gave a name of a contact who could transport the drugs.
Where did John Doe go wrong? He did not recognize and heal four big glaring criminogenic risk factors:
- anti-social network,
* allowing his active gang member neighbor into his social circle
(2) anti-social beliefs,
* believing that he could associate with his neighbor without getting caught up in any of his neighbor’s gang lifestyle or crime
(3) alcohol addiction
* returning to alcohol as a coping mechanism, and
(4) family dysfunction
* avoiding dealing with the problems at home through counseling or problem solving.
But how can John Doe be arrested for one conversation in which he basically said he would not be part of a crime? Welcome to the law of conspiracy. Don’t think it can happen? Ascend students can tell you exactly how the law of conspiracy will wrap John Doe up into this crime even when he intended on avoiding any illegal behavior.
Family dysfunction as a criminogenic risk factor can be explained in a simpler way.
John Doe has a drug problem. He gets released from jail and has nowhere to go but his mother’s house. His mom is an alcoholic who refuses to seek treatment. She also pesters John Doe to drink with her all the time. John Doe does not believe he is an alcoholic but alcohol does lead him to crave meth and he struggles with meth addiction. His mother knows this but continues to drink around him and tell him he needs to drink with her to be “fun.” This parent-child relationship is very clearly dysfunctional on multiple levels. It is easy to see how John Doe will eventually begin drinking and return to meth use.
Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Poor Impulse Control
Addiction leads to crime. This is intuitive and does not need much elaboration here. Ascend goes into depth on this topic teaching students the many ways in which addiction can sneak up on them and how the other criminogenic risk factors affect addiction. Ascend’s curriculum includes classes on relapse prevention.
Poor impulse control impairs our ability to act and causes us to react instead. Much of crime is based on a person’s reaction to anti-social situations. Ascend teaches mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy that aids students in increasing their impulse control.
Lack of Career and/or Education
Some of the links between lack of career and education are intuitive. If we have money for our basic necessities, we are less likely to steal. Other links between lack of career and/or education, however, are not as obvious but every bit as predictive.
Before we go into the analysis, let me take a moment to explain why we emphasize “career” and not “job” in our Ascend lessons. A person who is doing work about which they are passionate is in a happier, healthier, more empowering space than a person who is toughing it out at a 9 to 5 job every day doing work they either despise or find mundane.
A person who is in a career is generally making a salary above the poverty level. Everyone deserves a career. They deserve to be happy, healthy members of the workforce and they deserve to use their unique talents to make our community a better place.
A “job” should only be a temporary stop on the way to a “career.” One finds a career by first looking deeply into topics about which they are passionate and talented and determining how those passions and talents can fit into the workforce. More often than not, college is a prerequisite to making the leap from job to career, which is why Ascend places emphasis on enrollment in college.
Returning back to the topic at hand: how can lack of career/education predict a person’s return to crime? We have the one obvious example (having money to purchase something makes it less likely that we would steal).
What are less obvious links?
- Lack of career/and education make it more likely that a person has to rely on other people to provide resources for them. What happens if that person is anti-social? Think about the example of the person who was released from jail and had nowhere to go except to his anti-social mother’s house. Having a good career (made possible by education) means having personal power. When we can take care of ourselves, we are not forced to rely on an anti-social network for our survival.
- College and career workplaces are great places to form a pro-social network. Moreover, if a person has a degree or other career qualifications, they have more choice in the workplace so they can find a workplace that is free of anti-social networks. Some lower paying jobs are more likely to have anti-social people working there and this adds to a person’s anti-social network.
- Lack of career and/or education means that a person typically does not have enough resources to deal with problems as they arise. A person recovering from addiction will be more successful in affording treatment if they have a well-paying job or a well-paying job with health benefits. A person needing marital or family counseling will be more apt to afford that counseling if they have a well-paying job with benefits. A person who has a career and/or education has access to more of life’s necessities such as reliable transportation and healthy food. Lack of career and/or education typically makes survival harder. When we are stuck at the “barely surviving” level, problems are endless and we are left without the ability to heal criminogenic risk factors as they arise.
Lowering Criminogenic Risk Factors
We have learned enough about the existence and definition of the factors. We have seen examples on how they work to predict crime. What can we do to lower our risk? Flip the factors (as illustrated below):
|Risk Factor Remedy
Anti-social network Pro-social network
Anti-social beliefs Pro-social beliefs
Family Dysfunction Family Counseling/Boundary Setting
Drug and/or alcohol addiction Drug and/or Alcohol Treatment
Poor impulse control Mindfulness activities
Lack of career and/or education College and Job Training
Sneaky Criminogenic Risk Factors….When What Looks Positive is Actually Fraught with Danger:
Let us walk through an example together that illustrates how sneaky the criminogenic risk factors can be:
John Doe has just been released from jail. He has a methamphetamine addiction and has been recovering. He is clean from all drugs and alcohol now. He has a sister that is pro-social and is supportive of him. He is trying to start a new life for himself. John moves thousands of miles away from his old anti-social friends and is determined to make a healthy, happy future for himself. He has no college education but he works hard and is physically strong. He gets a job working for a busy construction company. His sister is thrilled. He has a plan on saving money and has a work truck that is running although it is old. Some of the guys that work at the construction company are using drugs and John shares some of the things he learned in drug treatment with them and encourages them to start on a better path.
This situation looks positive at first glance. What are John’s criminogenic risk factors?
- Anti-social network – John has not drawn firm enough boundaries with his acquaintances. He is not solid enough in his new life to spend time, energy or effort attempting to help people struggling with current drug addiction. It is only a matter of time before the law of constructive possession means that he gets arrested for being in a car or a place at the job where he is near someone else’s drugs. His sobriety will not save him from a drug possession charge based on constructive possession. We do not review law in this article, but Ascend students are taught the law of constructive possession and will cringe at the thought of being in the vicinity of someone who is actively in the throes of an addiction. John should have NO ONE in his network who is even remotely tied with drugs. NO ONE. UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
John has a pro-social sister. He should be expanding the pro-social network so that he has a group of people to socialize with as he starts his new life. Remember – a person’s anti-social network of today will be their co-defendants in the future!
- Lack of Career and/or Education – John is understandably proud of the fact that he is working and saving money. That is an excellent accomplishment! John is at risk, however, because his job may not be stable in addition to the fact that he has anti-social co-workers. When we have education or other career training, we are set apart from the general population. What are the qualifications for John’s construction job? A strong body and a willingness to do physically tough work. Many people have these qualifications. What if John had an AA degree in a construction related field? A business degree? An architecture degree? The job pool is a lot smaller and he would be more in demand.
What happens to John if the weather goes bad and construction is slow? There is little stability there. John has no medical benefits. What happens to John if he is injured? What happens to him if his addiction is triggered by the co-workers’ drug use and he needs treatment?
What happens if John’s truck stops working? How is he set back? He has a little savings, which is great, but he may need those savings to survive if the weather changes and he is unable to work for a period of time. An entry level job will not provide John the level of security he needs to become truly stable over the long term.
John’s better path is to enroll in college while he is working at the construction company and to see that job as a temporary stepping stone to a better job. He should avoid his co-workers like the plague and should be taking his sister’s help in being introduced to people in her pro-social network rather than spending his time forging acquaintances with drug using co-workers. Once he establishes a pro-social network, he is likely to get offered better jobs, as well. John needs to change his entire world in order to stay out of jail rather than replicate his world in a different part of the country.
Lowering criminogenic risk factors is the key to avoiding jail, prison and/or probation. It is the key to creating a healthier and happier life in which there is long lasting success. Not one of my clients or students who has made the effort to exclude an anti-social network in favor of a pro-social one has ever regretted it. In fact, they have thrived personally and professionally.
This is not to say that lowering these factors is easy. In fact, it is incredibly difficult. But small, consistent determined actions can eventually yield lowered risk factors and a new start to life. The first step is to become empowered with the knowledge that the factors even exist. That knowledge has been the platform from which many of our Ascend graduates have changed their lives. It is incredibly hard. But our students are incredibly resilient and capable. When they are empowered by knowledge, they manifest positive change that would not have been possible had they been kept in the dark about these sneaky criminogenic risk factors.
Did you make it through the whole article? If so, CONGRATULATIONS! We are proud of you! You are now empowered with new knowledge! Welcome to the first step towards a happy, healthy, successful life.