There are several cognitive restructuring theories that are used in cognitive therapy to reform criminals. The objectives of these theories is to rectify “faulty thinking’ so that the irrational beliefs of the person are replaced with more pertinent and useful ones. The cognitive restructuring theory assumes that the criminal’s own unrealistic beliefs are directly responsible for generating dysfunctional emotions and the behaviors that emanate from it. The approach of cognitive restructuring theories is that if the irrational beliefs are taken apart, we will be rid of such dysfunctional emotions that give rise to such emotions. The criminal often has a set of unachievable goals and if these goals are replaced with achievable goals the criminal can be changed.
One of the therapies developed is a self-control therapy called the reality therapy. According to this approach the offenders must face their present reality and must assume responsibility for their behavior. Normally, most criminals blame someone else for their faults. For instance, a criminal may claim that she was molested when she was a child and may blame her present crimeson the childhood molester.
Another group of criminals attempt to blame their unacceptable behavior on family issues. On the other hand, cognitive restructuring attempts to replace harmful habits like drug abuse or prostitution with healthy alternatives. Cognitive restructuring is widely used to help criminals change their unreasonable and maladaptive thoughts in the criminal context. What cognitive restructuring does is to modify attitudes and ways of thinking that indicate criminal behavior. In other words, cognitive restructuring attempts to prevent criminals from committing crimes in the future.
One example of a sociological theory that can be used for reforming criminals is Cohen and Pauly’s Sociological theories (1983). This theory emphasizes four sociological varieties namely learning, strain, control and labeling.
Another example of a sociological theory that can be used for reforming criminals is Metron’s “Strain Theories”. According to these theories, crime is not related to a clash in cultures but about agreement, the disparity between goals and mans of obtaining those goals, many reject these goals/means and mechanisms of selection.
Another example of a sociological theory that can be used for reforming criminals is Hirschi’s (1969) Control Theory. He asserts that all human beings are barbarians and criminality is not an unnatural state. So criminality is controlled through personal commitment to social norms, roles and relationships that fulfill social needs, and through sufficient tolerance to frustration, and positive goal orientation.
According to cognitive restructuring theories if hard core criminals are to be transformed into good citizens, the metamorphosis needs to come from within. The criminals must accept responsibility for their behavior. For this according to cognitive restructuring theories self-awareness is required. Reality therapy is used on criminals. The criminals are compelled to become self aware. This is initiated by the process of making criminals self-aware. From one perspective at this stage the criminal must admit to his responsibility. After this the criminal must develop the desire to transform his behavior. If the criminal does not desire to change, nobody can make him change. If the desire to improve is kindled, the next step is to develop a positive attitude. This is a gradual process and involves lifting of the attitude. Next the criminal must develop the skills and knowledge of how to change. The criminal is then given the opportunity to master the above steps. The objective is that the new behavior pattern must get into the subconscious of the criminal so that he does positive things from that stage onwards.
Let us take a practical example of how cognitive restructuring theories are applied to real life criminals. The person who was arrested was following what his family had done in the past. Namely, addiction, prison, and financial shortage. Subconsciously, the person was programmed to believe that the criminal was no goods and could not achieve anything. The criminal is made to realize that even though he did not have control over his early development, he did have control over the present. He could take action every day to prevent the wrong done to him. He could decide to forgive the wrongs done to him in the past so that he could get on with his life. The criminal is made to realize in the next stage that he could not continue to blame his parents and others for his difficulties. The cognitive restructuring actions help the criminal see that he is a valuable man with great potential and that his life was wonderful gift packed with several excellent opportunities. He is made to feel that he has the opportunity to rise above drug addiction. The criminal is told and made to realize that his past sufferings can actually help him become a better and more emphatic person. His hardship will make him a stronger person. Finally, the criminal is made to believe that he is in control of his own life. He can either make a success of it or can make it more difficult.