LG’s Book Reviews No. 2018-01. Ross & Hilborn (2008)

Book review of Ross, R. R. & Hilborn, J. (2008). Rehabilitating Rehabilitation. Neurocriminology for treatment of antisocial behavior. Ottawa: Cognitive Centre of Canada.

(ISBN 978-1-896310-05-3. Can be obtained at the Cognitive Center of Canada, Suite 294, 200 Rideau Terrace Ottawa, Canada, K1M0Z3, with a Check in currency equivalent to Canadian $ 29.50 + postage (for US orders: $ 18.50 surface; $ 38.50 air; for Europe orders surface $ 21.50; air:. $ 46.00.)

There is no better way to awaken the good in people than to treat them as if they were already good.

Gustav Radbruch[i]


The Reasoning and Rehabilitation Program (R&R) is a cognitive-behavioural approach which aims to change the attitudes and behaviour of offenders and thereby reduce the risk of relapse. It was developed by the Canadian psychologist Robert R. Ross, emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, who was also chief psychologist at the „Ministry of Correctional Services in Canada for juvenile and adult offenders“ for twelve years. For his work with antisocial young people he was awarded the „Centennial Medal of Canada“.

The effectiveness of R&R – starting signal was 1986 – is by now well documented, a meta-analysis (26 comparisons between treatment and control groups) resulted in a reduction of relapse rate by an average of 14% (Tong & Farrington 2006[ii]). The R&R is probably the most widely implemented relevant intervention worldwide; by now over 70,000 volunteers from 22 different countries – including Germany[iii], Hong Kong, Japan and the United Arab Emirates – have participated in R & R.

In the book reviewed here recent research results relevant to R&R are described, in particular regarding „Neurocriminology“. There is evidence that persons who behave prosocial create „prosocial connections“ in their brain (S. 233).

Such findings were included in the „R&R2“ programs, which meanwhile were published by the „Cognitive Centre of Canada“[iv] and which are also described in this book. The original version included at least 35 two-hour sessions, the new variants only about half this number. Furthermore, they are usually tailored to specific groups, such as mentally ill offenders or relatives of criminals.

In the original R&R version sometimes antisocial roles are embodied in role-play by participants. There is a risk – that can be confirmed completely by the writer of this review after of his long experience as R&R Coach[v] and R&R Instructor[vi] – that the „actors“ do not refer the applause they receive for their performance (eg laughter) to their performance but to their antisocial remarks. Therefore, a new principle of R&R says that participants must never embody antisocial roles and it must be ensured even more that prosocial behaviour and prosocial statements are often reinforced (p 234-235).

The R&R does not want to replace other interventions with offenders. It is a training of social competence, and not „therapy“ in the sense that the misdeeds of participants are discussed. The atmosphere should correspond more to an open university course than to a group of sinners who mutually pledge to improvement. This is probably the main reason why the program is well accepted by most participants. Therefore, it is recommended – eg when interventions are planned in prison – to begin with R&R in order to promote the general treatment readiness. Also, the strengths and weaknesses of participants can thus be better appreciated, which is useful for further treatment planning. Furthermore, acceptance is augmented because certain counter-productive behaviours must be avoided by R&R coaches. In the course of his work as instructor the author of this review has come to stigmatize three of these errors as a „deadly sins“: First, humiliate participants, secondly, to give the moral high ground, and thirdly – here one may argue whether this is really a capital offense – to keep monologues. The participants should not fall asleep but actively participate from the start.

This easy to read and with British humour – Ross grew up in Scotland – interwoven book can be recommended to all who are practicing R&R, in particular of course coaches and instructors. But since many fundamental problems of offender treatment and related research results are addressed and reported it can be recommended to all people interested in the rehabilitation of offenders.


[i] Gustav Radbruch (1878-1949) was a German politician and jurist.

[ii] Tong, J. L. S & Farrington, D. (2006). How effective is the „Reasoning and Rehabilitation“ programs in reducing reoffending? A meta-analysis of regular evaluations in four countries. Psychology, Crime & Law, 22, 3-24.

[iii] Gretenkord, L. (2017). R&R – Das Reasoning and Rehabilitation Programm. In R. Müller-Isberner, P. Born, S. Eucker, & B. Eusterschulte (Eds.), Praxishandbuch Maßregelvollzug. Grundlagen, Konzepte und Praxis der Kriminaltherapie (3., erweiterte und aktualisierte Aufl.) (S. 433-441). Berlin: Medizinisch Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft.

[iv] https://www.cognitivecentre.ca/

[v] R&R „trainer“ or „coach“ is a person leading a course. They are trained in a one-week course.

[vi] R&R „instructors“ are the persons who have been qualified by the Cognitive Centre of Canada and authorized to „train the trainers“, that is the R&R coaches.