This book is a compilation of eleven papers written on the research and clinical practice performed by the psychological services section staff of the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department’s Rehabilitative Division between 2018-2022. The year 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the 40th anniversary of the Correctional Services Department. The release of this book coincided with the celebration of these anniversaries. As noted by Mr. Wong Kwok-hing, CSDSM, Commissioner of Correctional Services, in the forward of the book:
“One of the strategic focuses of our Department is to broaden and deepen its research capacity. Quality research not only expands our knowledge base, but also facilitates knowledge transfer and professional exchanges. Our Clinical Psychologists have developed a large variety of evidence-based psychological programmes for persons in custody (PICs) to address their diverse needs and reduce reoffending. As scientist-practitioners, they have also conducted a diverse range of research studies, which offer valuable insights into the profiles of PICs and the effectiveness of the psychological treatment provided to them.”
When the IACFP International Correctional Mental Health Leadership Network was formed, and members first met in 2019, one of the things these leaders noted was the need to build a culture of research within correctional organizations. The Hong Kong Correctional Services Department has certainly done that and this book is a great example!
Gripping Insights: Recent Psychological Research on Hong Kong Corrections is available in an e-book format in both English and Chinese. Readers can access it here. The presentation is both easy to read and digest. It is a great reference guide, especially for practitioners, based on the professional knowledge of clinical psychologists working in correctional settings that is the result of years of research, practical local application of interventions, and improving their services over time through both experience and research.
The book covers the following areas:
- Persons with High Sex Reoffending Risk
- PSY GYM
- Women Offenders
- Male Offenders
- Gender Responsive Treatment
- CBT and PPI
- Hope and Mental Health
- Family Functioning, Aggression, and Hope in Young Male Offenders
- Elderly Persons in Custody
- Management of Self Harm
- Beyond Prison Walls: The Development and Use of Virtual Reality in Psychological Interventions
- From Strength to Strength—Looking Forward
Each of the eleven papers summarize the research and best practice(s) in their area of focus, provide case studies, present results of research conducted within Hong Kong Correctional Services, share their conclusions, and provide references. Several of the papers have been previously published in peer-reviewed journals such as International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology and Criminal Behavior and Mental Health.
Four of the most interesting papers looked at different aspects of PSY GYM for female individuals. The Psychological Gymnasium for Women Offenders began twelve years ago, so there has been a long-term commitment to engage in research, enhance both interventions and outcomes, and engage in comparative research. This intervention, as described by Professor Ho, was, “an innovative programme putting contemporary psychology theories into rehabilitative practices…”. It is a combined treatment approach of CBT and PPI. The three signature features of programmes offered in PSY GYM are:
- Gender-responsive approach
- Therapeutic environment
- Everyday life perspective
In one of the papers, the results showed that, “PSY GYM achieved its two proposed goals: (a)reducing symptomatology as shown in the reduction of depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms, and negative attention bias; and (b) enhancing positive growth as exhibited in the increase in total hope, gratitude and positive attention bias.” In a second paper, the PSY GYM was compared to a “treatment as usual” (TAU) group as well as comparing CBT and PPI alone. “Our findings show a clear advantage to psychological interventions with women in prison over TAU, providing minimal support. Differences between eight sessions of CBT and eight sessions of PPI were small, but CBT appeared not only to alleviate distress but also build strengths while PPI appeared not only to enhance psychological well-being but also to reduce psychological distress significantly. A longer course of treatment in which women received both forms of intervention had advantages over either separately.”
In the final paper on PSY GYM, the scientist-practitioners investigated relationships between dispositional cognition of hope and habitual attentional processing styles and psychological distress among the women. The results were encouraging from both a treatment and security perspective as, “…among women in prison, higher levels of hope were associated with lower levels of symptoms of depression.”
Based on the success of PSY GYM, these clinical psychologists have pioneered a male-responsive psychological programme through the lens of masculinity. It is described as follows:
Clinical psychologists have integrated both male psychology literature and correctional research in developing systematic psychological assessment and treatment programmes for LIFE GYM…The multi-modal Intensive Programme has dual objectives of reducing re-offending and cultivating positive masculinities. The programme consists of cognitive-behavioural group therapy with special emphasis on skills-training.” Preliminary results showed that participants showed improvement on emotion regulation, impulse control, interpersonal relationships, relapse prevention knowledge and a self-improvement orientation with less hostility, criminal attitude, and physical aggressive behaviour. One of the five treatment strategies employed in this program is Virtual Reality Training. This platform is being expanded.
The chapters on the impact of improved family function on reducing aggression and strengthening hope, understanding elderly persons in custody, management of self-harm risk, and looking toward the future give one hope for both persons in custody and how scientist-practitioners can utilize assessment and treatment to support environments that cultivate and support hope while reducing risks of harm.
This e-book is highly recommended and is available to read in English and Chinese here.
Cherie Townsend is the IACFP Executive Director. She also works as an executive coach and consultant. Ms. Townsend previously worked as a leader and practitioner in juvenile justice systems for nearly 40 years.