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THE BELIEFS AT THE ROOT OF CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR CAN BE ELIMINATED, ACCORDING TO RESEARCH AT TWO CONNECTICUT INSTITUTIONS

Specific negative beliefs that result in violence and criminal behavior can be eliminated in a matter of weeks, according to a 1994 research study involving incarcerated teenage and adult offenders in two Connecticut penal institutions.

Designed by Dr. Lee Sechrest, Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona, the study used the Decision Maker Process, created by Morty Lefkoe, president of the Decision Maker Institute. This Process was used by Mr. Lefkoe in working with the experimental subjects in two hour, one-on-one sessions each week for thirteen weeks. The subjects were teenagers from the Long Lane School for Adjudicated Delinquents in Middletown, CT, and adults from the Maple Street House, a half-way house in Bridgeport, CT.

The study concluded that eliminating such common beliefs among criminals as "I'm bad," "There's something wrong with me," "People can't be trusted," and "Carrying a gun is what makes me important," dramatically improved their self-esteem and drastically changed their attitudes about violence, the need for peer approval, and hostility.

A California State task force concluded in 1990 that low self-concept is one of the root causes of crime and violence, with self-esteem a possible critical factor in violent crimes, especially violence toward intimates. A 1993 report by the American Psychological Association concluded: "Mob violence, like gang participation, can serve many psychosocial needs. These include the need to enhance self-esteem."

The Decision Maker Process is based on the notion that behavior and emotions are a function of beliefs. The Process enables people to identify the specific beliefs responsible for any given pattern of behavior or emotions, and then to totally and permanently eliminate the beliefs, thereby producing significant changes in the patterns. Mr. Lefkoe and his associates have been successful in assisting nearly 1,000 clients to eliminate the beliefs at the root of such problems as bulimia and other eating disorders, depression, phobias, anxiety, workaholism, sexual dysfunction, unsatisfying relationships, and barriers in their ability to perform effectively at sports. After the beliefs were eliminated, these and other dysfunctional patterns disappeared. Moreover, clients showed significant improvements in self-esteem, which led them to stop experiencing themselves as victims and to start taking responsibility for their lives.

One teenager, arrested for stealing a car, said at the end of the study: "I used to think I was just bad. I didn't feel good about myself. I just used to think I was somebody that people should stay away from. I feel different now."

An adult felon, arrested for larceny and assault with a deadly weapon, said that as a result of the Decision Maker sessions "I learned to handle my temper. I realize violence is not the way. Somebody say something bad to me, I just ignore it. I used to be very violent. I feel now that that's not necessary in my life anymore."

Another adult, arrested for sale of narcotics, said at the end of the study that "I plan to better myself. I know that I can. I see that I can, whereas before I didn't think I could. I constantly thought negative of myself, of other people. And I no longer feel that."

Dr. Lee Sechrest concluded after an analysis of the data: "The results strongly support the claim that persons in the experimental condition did develop more favorable self-concepts over the weeks of the experiment, while those in the control condition showed no systematic change. For the overall self-concept measure [the Tennessee Self-concept Scale] and for all the subscales except Moral-ethnic Self and Self-criticism, the results were statistically significant and indicated more improvement in the experimental group.... Similarly, by self-reports, the persons in the experimental group also improved more in several behavioral dispositions likely to be related to risk of further legal violations....

"The simplest, and we think fairly compelling conclusion, is that the intervention resulted in generally favorable changes in self-concept in the Experimental group and that without intervention, self-concepts would likely have deteriorated during confinement....

"All in all, this little experiment has to be regarded as a fairly remarkable success. Certainly it justifies efforts to carry out further testing to determine whether the changes observed can be dependably produced. If they can, the Decision Maker Process could have definite promise in helping young male offenders mend their ways."

Now that this study has confirmed the researchers' hypothesis that the Decision Maker Process can contribute in a major way to remedying the out-of-control problem of crime and violence, Lefkoe intends to make it available it to the appropriate government and private agencies to aid both in prevention and rehabilitation. He and Dr. Sechrest intend to apply for grants for an even more extensive study on recidivism they want to conduct with about one hundred teen subjects through the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department.

copyright 1985-1996 Morty Lefkoe