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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at the Intersection of Criminal Behavior and Substance Use Disorder

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2022
8 pages

This “brief” provided by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) under BJA’s Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP) describes brief examples of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) at work in the criminal justice system.


Researchers have observed the greatest reductions in recidivism when interventions target three of the “Big Four” risk factors, i.e., 1) antisocial peer associations, 2) antisocial attitudes, and antisocial personality characteristics. A holistic approach to helping individuals exit and stay out of jail incorporates CBT that addresses antisocial thinking. Antisocial thinking patterns are thoughts and ideas that are regularly used to dismiss or explain away behavior known to be wrong or illegal. CBT posits that thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected. Behavioral changes occur when the thinking process and content of thoughts are addressed. Programming at the Franklin County Jail in the western part of Massachusetts emphasizes mindfulness-based CBT as a pillar for behavioral change. Washington County Community Corrections (WCCC), which is located in the fifth most populous county in Minnesota, provides community supervision services to approximately 6,500 adults on probation each year. CBT principles are infused throughout WCCC programming to facilitate behavioral change among individuals under correctional supervision, starting with the supervision officers’ use of cognitive skills during individual sessions or contacts with those they supervise.