Shaping, Chaining, and Reinforcement Schedules in Prison: A Review Shaping, chaining and reinforcement schedules are learning theories utilized in operant conditioning to change individual behaviors. Shaping involves teaching new behaviors in steps. An individual shapes their behaviors when they are rewarded for closely or perfectly mastering a step in the behaviors modification. Chaining is the links that are made from one step to another in the behavior modification. Reinforcement schedules are the rewards and punishments given when an individual masters or refuses to master a step in the shaping of a behavior.
Operant conditioning incorporates the use of shaping, chaining and reinforcing behaviors in order to create a desirable outcome in the behaviors of an individual. Shaping, chaining and reinforcement schedules are utilized in schools, homes, and prisons across the world. In the prison environment they are used to change inmate’s behaviors, and help inmates get ready to reenter society as productive members. Prisons utilize the various steps of operant conditioning to aide in changing all sorts of behaviors including anger management. Shaping and Chaining
Shaping and chaining behavior is a key part of the learning theory known as operant conditioning. Operant conditioning Shaping takes place when an individual is rewarded for a acceptable response to a stimulus. In an anger management program an individual would be rewarded for the reaction to anger and the ability to manage anger. An individual would be rewarded for managing anger when presented with stimuli that triggers anger and punished when failing to manage anger when presented with stimuli that trigger anger. At first then inmate might be reward for not becoming physically aggressive when presented with the stimuli that triggers anger.
Over time the inmate would not be rewarded unless management is displayed without verbal or physical aggression. The reward for the anger management displayed by inmates would decrease as the management techniques improve. Chaining would occur when the inmate is able to move from one step to another in their ability to manage their anger.
Reinforcement schedules are the rewards and punishments utilized in conjunction with shaping and chaining in operant conditioning of behaviors. Rewards are utilized to encourage the right responses to stimuli while punishments are utilized to consequence or discourage any responses that are not close to the desired response to a stimulus. As an individual chains the responses and shapes anger management behaviors they are rewarded and learn to utilize anger management in place of old behaviors. The use of rewards is phased out when an individual utilizes the anger management responses instead of the originally responses to stimuli that create anger. Rewards and sanctions are key to shaping any behavior (Carey & Carter, 2009).
Research shows that the utilization of positive reinforcement in inmates produces positive results in shaping behaviors (Thomas, 2001). According to Fishbein, Sheppard, Hyde, Hubal, Newlin, Serin, Chrousos, & Alesci; “Executive cognitive functioning and emotional regulation may play a key role in treatment responsively” (2009 p.419). Burdon, St. De Lore & Prendergast report that behaviorally based protocol that involves the systematic application of positive reinforcement following demonstration of a desired behavior in drug treatment programs have proven to promote the shaping of inmate behaviors (2012). “Although historically sanctions have been used as the primary method to respond to or control offenders’ behavior, research indicates that positive reinforcement should be applied more frequently than negative reinforcement when trying to change behavior” (Carey & Carter, 2009 p.9) Most experts in psychology and criminal justice agree anger is problematic when it is too frequent, too intense, too prolonged, or managed ineffectively (Smith, Smith & Beckner, 1994). Smith, Smith & Beckner discuss a research study in which anger management workshops were utilized in a women’s correctional facility (1994).
In this study women were taught anger management skills over the duration of three sessions (1994). The inmates were taught anger management skills and reported feeling better about themselves and their ability to cope with stimuli that triggers anger (1994). Reinforcement schedules are shown to be more effective in women inmates (1994). Shaping of inmate behaviors in drug treatment programs with the use of reinforcement schedules have been researched and findings have been promising (Burdon, St. De Lore & Prendergast, 2012). The shaping of anger management behaviors in inmates is possible with positive reinforcement schedules. Inmates do well when positive reinforcements for behaviors are given (Seirn & Hanby, 2009). As Burdon, St. De Lore & Prendergast explains, inmates are constantly being given punishments and acknowledged for the negative behaviors displayed (2009). When punishments are strip away replace with positive reinforcement there is a significant change in the behaviors exhibited by inmates (Smith & Schweitzer, 2012). Individuals receiving positive attention of behaviors exhibit more positive behaviors to get the attention desired.
The same can be said in the prison setting. Individuals need to be taught new ways to deal with anger, and the prison environment offers a unique environment to reshape the very behaviors and beliefs that contributed to an individual being placed in there. Inmates imprisoned for acts of violence due to the lack of anger management skills will only reenter the prison system for the same acts if not taught a different way to cope with stimuli that triggers anger. Implementing anger management skills to inmates with anger management issues would reduce the likelihood of reentry. Shaping and chaining the way in which inmates respond to anger can result in lifelong effective implementation of anger management skills by inmates. Shaping would occur by first helping inmate identify stimuli that triggers anger.
Once inmates know what triggers anger, next the teaching of anger management skills can take place. When inmates utilize the anger management skills in place of the natural reaction for situations that trigger anger, rewards would be given. By implementing reinforcements for the utilization of anger management skills inmates learn the acceptable responses to stimuli of anger. The goal would be to effectively shape the anger management skills utilized by inmates without the need for reinforcement. For example, instead of becoming violent, an inmate would walk away.
The utilization if positive reinforcement schedules have been proven to be effective in prisons across the United States. Anger management programs have not always proven to be successful within prisons. Shaping and chaining of anger can be done within the prison system through the implementation of anger management workshops and reinforcements schedules. Several studies have shown the successes of positive reinforcement with inmates. Combining anger management shaping with reinforcement schedules could prove to increase the likelihood of success in anger management programs offered to inmates.
Butdon, W., St. De Lore, J., Prendergast, M. (2012). Developing and implementing a positive behavioral reinforcement intervention in prison-based drug treatment: Project BRITE. Journal of Phychoactive Drugs, 7, 40-50 Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3429341/ Casey, M., & Carter, M. Center for Effective Public Policy. (2009) Shaping offender behavior. Retrieved from http://www.cepp.com/documents/Shaping%20Offender%20Behavior.pdf Fishbein, D., Sheppard, M., Hyde, C., Hubal, R., Newlin, D., Serin, R., Chrousos, G., & Alesci, S. (2009). Deficits in behavioral inhibition predict treatment engagement in prison inmates. Law and Human Behavior, 33(5), 419-35. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10979-008-9163-7 Serin, R., Hanby, L. Correctional Service Canada. (2009). Offender incentive and behavioural management. Retrieved from http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/research/005008-0214-01-eng.shtml strategies. Smith, P. & Schweitzer, M. (2012). The therapeutic prison. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28(1), 7-22. doi: 10.1177/1043986211432201 Thomas, S. P. (2001). Teaching healthy anger management. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 37(2), 41-8. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/200754284?accountid=458