A judicial officer assists offenders to set rehabilitation goals & strategies (TJ Court Craft Series #8)

The TJ Court Craft Series provides practical insights and tools for judges interested in therapeutic jurisprudence, problem solving or solution-focused approaches.  Read other blog posts in the Court Craft Series here.

In this post Michael King, a judicial officer in Victoria Australia and author of the Solution-Focused Bench Book,  shares a tool he uses in court with offenders …

Setting goals and strategies is a technique advocated in the therapeutic jurisprudence literature. Research suggests achievement is promoted through the setting of goals. There is a well-developed literature on the value of goal setting.  It is also well accepted that behavioural change and rehabilitation is best driven by the person seeking to make the change.

One tool I use with offenders to facilitate this process is a goals-and-strategies /rehabilitation plan form.

When do I use the form?

While your own court processes may differ this form is adaptable to various mainstream criminal court processes. I have used this strategy while sitting in as a magistrate in two jurisdictions now – Victoria and Western Australia and have been able to adapt the strategy for use in both mainstream courts. I have also used it while Perth Drug Court magistrate and while sitting in a family violence court.

I am having accused/offenders complete the form:

  • When I am considering a bail application and the accused has underlying issues that they wish to address. The contents of the plan contribute to my assessment of unacceptable risk.
  • Where I am deferring sentence to see whether a person can follow through with rehabilitation before I decide on the final sentence
  • When I am considering whether to sentence a person on a Community Corrections Order (a probation order) or when I sentence them to a Community Corrections Order I require them to complete the form by their first judicial monitoring appearance.

This type of form could also be used when considering parole or re-entry from imprisonment.

It could also be used by lawyers and community corrections officers. For example, a lawyer could encourage a criminal client who wishes to plead guilty to a charge to prepare a rehabilitation plan in preparation for the case in court.

Setting positive goals

Accused/offenders should be encouraged to set positive goals. – in the literature these are called “approach goals” – as they have been found to be more effective than negative goals.

For example, a goal of having respectful, caring and loving relationships is better than a goal of not being violent; indeed the seed of how to achieve the goal is in the former but not the latter.

Advantages of the form
I find that it has a number of advantages:

  • Giving accused/offenders ownership in their rehabilitation that may contribute to an increased commitment to pursue it.
  • Having them think about and form a vision of how their life could be.
  • Providing the court the opportunity to support an accused/offender’s belief in their ability to change – an important requirement for rehabilitation according to the literature – by approving and praising the plan (with modifications where needed) and by giving praise when goals are achieved.
  • Holding accused/offenders accountable for their own rehabilitation as well as for their actions.
  • Providing the court with an internal rather than an external reference point at judicial monitoring or other hearings in addressing a situation when performance is lacking – “you said you would do X in your plan. How does you doing Y fit in with that?” instead of “I told you to do that, why didn’t you do it?”. The former has less chance of promoting resistance to change.
  • Involving accused/offenders in decision-making processes concerning their own rehabilitation.

I have had some great successes with the use of the plan. Of course there have been cases when it has not worked, but that is the case with most court processes.

The form can be found here: goals-and-strategies

I am most grateful to David Wexler and the late Bruce Winick for introducing me to the strategy that judicial officers and lawyers can use of setting goals. Their writings provide a wealth of knowledge about TJ practices.

There is more information about setting goals and strategies and references to the research in the Solution-Focused Judging Bench Book, pp 167-170.

Message from the editor:   Feel free to share ideas you have for offender rehabilitation by clicking on the “Leave a comment” link below or  email: mainstreamtj@gmail.com to contribute your own blog post

 

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3 Responses to A judicial officer assists offenders to set rehabilitation goals & strategies (TJ Court Craft Series #8)

  1. tina previtera says:

    Dear Michael, Greetings from Queensland. I agree entirely with your technique in having accused/offenders complete the Goals and Strategies form (as I agree with all of your techniques in the Solution Focused Bench Book). It is always good to be reminded of these techniques and I am going to trial the Goals and Strategies form in the Brisbane Murri Court. I will let you know how it goes.

    Like

    • Michael King says:

      Dear Tina, Nice to hear from you! I am delighted that TJ initiatives are back and running in Queensland. Queensland magistrates have done some great work in that regard over the years.

      One thing I do when presenting the goals and strategies task to accused is to ask them to imagine or picture in their minds what they want their life to be like at the end of the court order or the end of their involvement with the court and from that set out some goals for each area of their life, such as health, relationships, work, housing etc, anything that could help them to lead a good life. Then I ask them to write out what they are going to do to achieve their goals. If they come up with a good plan, I refer to particular aspects of it and praise the good features of it and assure them that the plan is achievable.

      I will be interested to hear how it goes in the Murri court.

      Kind regards,

      Michael

      Like

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