NUMBER 124 • 7 OCTOBER 2002 • POSITIVE PEER CULTURE IN CORRECTIONS
INDEX OF QUOTES
Positive Peer Culture (PPC) groups are similar to the Just Community approach in the level of involvement of youth in the change process. PPC has been a popular peer group intervention developed for delinquent youth and used with them since the latter part of the 1970s (Davis, Hoffman, & Quigley, 1988; Tannehill, 1987). Brendtro and Ness (1991) described PPC as a residential treatment that empowers youth as partners with staff in the problem solving process. Vorrath and Brendtro (1985) stated that PPC groups teach students to assume responsibility for helping one another, and for their own actions through refraining from blaming others and using excuses. Youth are encouraged to identify and accept their feelings regarding situations they view as problematic (Davis et al., 1988). With PPC, the peer group is viewed as a resource rather than a negative influence. In the group, members' problems are identified and worked through to obtain satisfactory solutions. Members offer solutions, provide helpful confrontations, and support displays of behavioral self-control. Instead of focusing on the youth asking for or expecting to receive help, PPC focuses on their willingness to offer it. Through giving, a group member's self worth is more likely to increase (Vorrath & Brendtro, 1985).
By participating in a PPC group, members learn the basic values of respecting and thoughtfully regarding one another. These values are taught through the small discussion group. Displays of trust and openness are valued in the group over coercion and punishment with the group leader consistently modeling such behaviors. Participants who exhibit difficulty displaying such behaviors are viewed as having the potential for strength and greatness (Davis et al., 1988), but recognized as needing additional support and/or reinforcement.
The goals of PPC interventions include the changing of members' attitudes, values, and self-concepts which are consistent with Pedersen and Ivey's (1996) definition of culture. The intention of a PPC is to replace a negative culture with a more positive one. Davis et al. (1988) declared that change in these areas can promote ongoing, lasting behavior change. Tannehill (1987) reported that perhaps the most frequent changes observed in PPC participants were: 1) self-awareness; 2) a more positive self-image; 3) an improved ability to identify personal problems and make more rational decisions, and 4) a higher level of concern for oneself and others.
In designing and implementing a PPC intervention, the recommended size of the group is one adult leader, with nine youth, in order to keep the process alive without being overwhelming (Vorrath & Brendtro, 1985). Tannehill (1987) found that PPC meetings, held from three to five times weekly for approximately one to one and a half hours work best. PPC is effective with youth who are more peer-oriented than adult-oriented (12-18 year-olds), and of the same-sex (Vorrath & Brendtro, 1985). Participants of similar age, sex, maturity, and sophistication, but who are heterogeneous in personality and problem type tend to interact more effectively. It is important to recognize that physical size is an important factor when considering homogeneity. If one group member is disproportionately large in stature (or small) it is advised that this individual be included in a separate group. It is also recommended that family members not be in the same group (Vorrath & Brendtro, 1985).
Adult leadership is crucial to establish an effective PPC. Staff must be adequately trained to confront group members without feeling overpowered or threatened by the strong peer connection that has been encouraged to develop. An effective leader serves as a teacher or coach who holds the group responsible for working on problems and acts as a limit setter and good listener (Vorrath & Brendtro, 1985).
Research on PPC programs has demonstrated clear positive changes in the self esteem, locus of control, moral values, and academic achievement of members as a result of in-group interventions (Brendtro & Wasmund, 1988). A study by Davis et al. (1988) addressed the change in self-concept of 231 adjudicated delinquent youth in PPC treatment. Results of the Tennessee Self Concept Scale (Roid & Fitts, 1988) administered to delinquent youth who had participated in a PPC demonstrated that participants rated themselves as having a more positive self concept and a higher level of psychological adjustment at the end of the PPC program. In addition, PPC has been found to reduce recidivism as well as the delinquent values of juvenile offenders while increasing self esteem (Michigan Department of Social Services, 1983; Wasmund,1980a, 1980b).
What makes Positive Peer Culture work?
Youth who come to treatment blaming others for their problems are challenged and confronted by peers. PPC groups work well with youth from diverse cultures because they involve their peers. Vorrath and Brendtro (1985) cite the power of peer influence as the instrumental ingredient in assuring the success of PPC groups. In particular, the rewards and benefits realized by participants who move from a position of exclusively receiving feedback to one of providing such as well are cited by the authors. The open and trusting environment that PPC's create, the belief that problems can be viewed as opportunities, a focus on the here and now as opposed to dwelling on the past, and an expectation that the youth is instrumental in the success of PPC, all increase the likelihood of a positive change in a participant's attitude and interpersonal behaviors. Laufenberg (1987) emphasized the importance of focusing upon group rather than individual reward. Although each member may receive a personal assignment, only the combined effort of all the members result in the successful completion of the assignment.
EDWARD MOODY and HELEN LUPTON-SMITH
Moody, E. and Lupton Smith, H. (Interventions with Juvenile Offenders: Strategies to Prevent Acting Out Behavior, Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, 20 (1), 2-14
Brendtro, L. & Wasmund, W. (1989). The peer culture model. In R. Lyman, S. Prentice-Dunn & S. Gabel (Eds.) Residential and inpatient treatment of children and adolescents. New York: Plenum Press.
Davis, G., Hoffman, R., & Quigley, R. (1988). Self-concept change and positive peer culture in adjudicated delinquents. Child and Youth Care Quarterly, 17, 137-145.
Laufenberg, R. (1987). Positive peer culture: A peer group approach to behavior change. Journal of Correctional Education, 38, 138-143.
Michigan Department of Social Services (1983). The institution centers: Objectives and progress. Lansing, MI: Institutional Services Division. O.C.Y.S.
Pedersen, P. B., & Ivey, A. (1996). Culture-centered counseling and interviewing skills: A practical guide. Westport, CONN: Praeger Publishers.
Roid, G. H., & Fitts, W. H. (1988). Tennessee Self-Concept Scale, Revised Manual. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Tannehill, R. (1987). Employing a modified positive peer culture treatment approach in a state youth center. Journal of Offender Counseling, Services, & Rehabilitation, 12, 113-129.
Vorrath, H., & Brendtro, L. (1985). Positive Peer Culture. New York: Aldine Publishing Company.
Wasmund, W. (1980a). The effects of positive peer culture upon the self concept of adolescent offenders. Unpublished manuscript.
Wasmund, W. (1980b). A research evaluation November 1977 through March 1980 of the Woodland Hills residential treatment program. Unpublished manuscript.