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Criminal justice

Consequential thinking in criminal justice

A paper depiction of a side-profile head sits atop a pair of hands. In the hands, is a squiggle representing a brain with lines extending out beyond the head to represent thoughts.

At its core, consequential thinking shapes how we navigate our experiences and make decisions in the world around us. It is a fundamental aspect of human cognition and allows us the ability to anticipate and evaluate the potential outcomes of our actions ahead of taking them.

Allowing time to consider how the impact of our behaviours have effect should play a pivotal role in our everyday lives. From minute day-to-day decisions to life-changing ones, we constantly weigh up (whether consciously or subconsciously) the potential outcomes of our actions. This cognitive process enables us to navigate the impact and repercussions, positive or negative, of such decisions. This constant problem-solving process, in turn, has huge impact on how we achieve an intentional, healthy and pro-social lifestyle.

Through the lens of criminal justice, and in the context of the journey to desistance, the need to understand consequential thinking is key in the process of reaching a crime-free lifestyle. Lack of consequential thinking impacts the offending/reoffending cycle and plays a critical role in possible recidivism. At Catch22, we often see that individuals engage in criminal behaviour and activity without fully considering the potential consequences of their actions. Impulsivity, peer pressure, and limited foresight are all key factors when consequential thinking is not utilised. This can often override rational decision-making, leading individuals to prioritise short-term gains and gratifications rather than the longer-term and often damaging consequences.

Equally, for those who work within the criminal justice system landscape, understanding the nuances of consequential thinking is essential in successfully responding to and equipping people with the tools and techniques to make positive change. An awareness of how individuals make decisions, assess potential risk, and deal with consequences can inform the strategies for crime prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation. When working towards a holistic and person-centred approach, support can be tailored to address specific problematic areas in consequential thinking and promote positive behavioural change by understanding the person first: taking into consideration life experiences and recognising the cognitive processes underlying the criminal behaviour,.

The Catch22 interventions offer has a number of resources which are used across Catch22’s Justice services to directly target the topic of consequential thinking. From individual workbooks and group work, we aim to promote a collaborative and trauma-informed space in which service users can unpack past choices that lead to offending behaviour and learn new skills, techniques and coping strategies to reinforce more effective consequential thinking. These resources utilise key theories and approaches, such as cognitive behavioural theory, utilitarianism, and positive discourse, combined with intervention topics such as anger management and impact. This equips learners with the ability to understand the cognitive process and promote a better sense of self-awareness, moral reasoning, empathy, and positive decision-making skills. Through the intervention space, staff can promote the development of pro-social skills and moral reasoning, such that service users can enhance their capacity for empathy whilst widening their perspective and understandings.

“It made me change my impulsive behaviour and reflect upon my actions.​”

– Service user, Catch22’s Personal Wellbeing Service

Through a deeper understanding of the experiences of offenders who lack consequential thinking skills, we can continue to expand our own understanding and abilities to better equip individuals with the tools necessary to assess risks, weigh up consequences, and make informed decisions. This ultimately enables individuals to feel more empowered to live a meaningful and constructive life, reducing recidivism rates, and promoting reintegration.

This week, Catch22 has released its Consequential Thinking Resource Pack: a pack of three free interventions for practitioners, caseworkers, or facilitators working in the Criminal Justice Sector to use. The interventions focus on three different aspects of consequential thinking and guide service users through exercises that will support them to hone their consequential thinking skills.