Emotional intelligence and recidivism

While discussion of feelings may remind you of warm and fuzzy sing-alongs by the campfire, the issue of emotional intelligence is not to be trivialized


Three things crossed my path that influenced the writing of this article.

First, I was recently asked to develop a class on emotional intelligence for a probation department in Texas. It seemed like an interesting request, not one of the most common topics to train on. So I dived into the assignment a few days ago, beginning to prepare for the day-long course, which will be held in a few months.

Second, in recent days, I came across an article about various occupations available for job seekers over 50 years old. One expert comments, “By 50-something, one should have heightened emotional intelligence.” More on that in a minute.

Third, I read the article by Cherrie Greco on recidivism, which appears in this issue of Leadership eNews and can be found on the Corrections1 website. Cherrie discusses the complexities surrounding recidivism, from wide-ranging disagreements on basic definitions to politics, budget constraints, public perception, and a host of other factors.

These things appeared as I was reading a book called, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. In it, the authors provide a primer on the topic, frequently referred to as EQ, standing alongside one’s IQ. They make the following points:

- Emotional intelligence is “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”

- Thoughts cut through the limbic system of the brain before reaching the frontal lobe, making us “emotional creatures [and] your first reaction to an event is always going to be an emotional one.”

- There are five core feelings: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame. Under each of these categories a host of subtle and nuanced emotions are found that represent varying degrees of each core feeling.

- Of 500,000 people studied, only 36 percent of the people tested are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen.

- IQ, EQ, and Personality assessed together are the best way to get a picture of the whole person. EQ, unlike IQ and ersonality, can be changed and improved.

It may be true that, as the expert mentioned above maintains, a person who has lived more than 50 years should have a heightened emotional intelligence. What is missing from that statement is the critical point that it is not attained by simply growing older, but through a thorough awareness of oneself gained by a lengthy period of time actively working to become more emotionally in touch.

While discussion of feelings may remind you of warm and fuzzy sing-alongs by the campfire, the issue of emotional intelligence is not to be trivialized. If it is the only one of three components of a person’s makeup (IQ, EQ, and personality) that can be improved, it deserves attention. If it is the cornerstone of successful relationships, effective all-around performance at the workplace, and even plays a major role in determining people’s salaries, one cannot ignore its importance.

As Bradberry and Greaves write, “Self-awareness is so important for job performance that 83 percent of people high in self-awareness are top performers, and just 2 percent of bottom performers are high in self-awareness.”

Doug Dretke, the former director of the Institutions Division (prisons) at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is fond of making two crucial observations. First, in excess of 90 percent of the inmates incarcerated today will return home. Second, “If we send inmates home angrier than when they entered prison, then we have failed in our mission.”

Dretke’s comments are that much more potent when considered in the context of Cherrie Greco’s article on recidivism. Greco laments the state of our understanding of recidivism in the context of multiple and conflicting definitions, shrinking budgets, and other factors. Due to the nature of the corrections system, when budgets do get cut, among the first things to be excised are the very educational, spiritual, and support programs that, in the context of emotional intelligence, are most important in attempting to reduce recidivism.

It’s difficult enough for the most educated, balanced, and self-aware individuals to achieve a reasonably high level of emotional intelligence. Here we are asking the most disadvantaged and socially isolated individuals to do it with a relative lack of resources and guidance and not come back to prison. How do we expect inmates who may have little education and limited capacity to handle the frustrations of a world they may not have inhabited for five, ten, or twenty-five years avoid returning to prison if we are, by nature, emotional creatures? 

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