38 Fed. Probation 33 (1974)
The Failure of a Token Economy

handle is hein.journals/fedpro38 and id is 195 raw text is: THE FAILURE OF A TOKEN ECONOMY

bation officer, to provide enrichment opportunities
for those who prove through preassessment and
pretraining that the activities may be bypassed.
Individualism
Probation officers think of themselves as highly
independent, antiauthoritarian, antiorganization
individuals. Administrative staff members should
not undermine this myth, but it is not necessary
that they believe it. The fact is that probation
officers as a group are surprisingly tolerant of
organization  constraints  and  administrative
mickey mouse. There is, however, one precon-
dition: They must be given a rationale that they
can accept for any policy or procedure. Probation
officers will accept, or at least live with anything
within reason if it is discussed with them and

they have a chance to react. If the large majority
of probation officers cannot be persuaded that a
given policy is justified, one of three things is
wrong: (1) The policy is misguided; (2) they
have not properly thought through the policy and
the reasons for it and therefore cannot articulate
them clearly and forcibly, or (3) the probation of-
ficers are resisting you and your administration,
not the policy.
What probation administration communicates
to probation officers is not unrelated to what we
as probation officers communicate to the clients
we service. It is appalling that so little that is not
misconception is known about the probation offi-
cer and the probation department after so many
years. Perhaps it is a reflection of how little the
probation department knows about itself. The
general topic is worth a great deal more thought.

The Failure of a Token Economy
BY D. RICHARD LAWS, PH.D.*
Staff Psychologist, A tascadero State Hospital, A tascadero, California

HOSE who have established and operated
token economies,' particularly in public fa-
cilities in the absence of outside support,
know that there is massive institutional resistance
to these programs. In a State mental hospital,
token economies are highly disruptive of estab-
lished routines, and their successful operation in-
evitably results in more work for the staff. If the
token program strives for or achieves a measure
of autonomy in the system, particularly in the
sense of evaluation and treatment, this is often
interpreted as a direct usurpation of traditional
(primarily psychiatric) prerogatives.
Token economies have, however, proved useful
in a variety of settings2 and this obvious viability
can no longer be wished away. So if the token
economy is not welcomed, it may be tolerated. If it
is not seen as an acceptable treatment modality
* The opinions or conclusions stated in this article are
those of the author and are not to be construed as official
or as necessarily reflecting the policy of the Department of
Health of the State of California. The author wishes to
thank A. J. Rucci, M.D., medical director, Atascadero State
Hospital, for his helpful comments and criticisms in the
preparation of this paper. Reprints may be obtained from
D. R. Laws, Atascadero State Hospital, Atascadero, Cali-
fornia 93422.

for the acute, tractable individual, it may be
viewed as a means of controlling the intractable
individual who demonstrates a behavior prob-
lem. Once accepted, the token economy will prob-
ably be physically isolated and placed under such
rigid external administrative control that, if it
achieves any measure of success in terms of its
objectives, it will be in spite of rather than be-
cause of the environment in which it functions.
Writing of the difficulty in attempting to estab-
lish behavioral programs in restrictive social set-
tings, Serber has observed
Many hospitals, or programs, not under direct social
pressure to change, neither require nor desire innova-
tions or objective alternatives to the ways in which they
have always operated .... An objective systematic as-
sessable program is a threat to a hospital fostering non-
objective programs dictated by whim .... 3
This article will describe some of the difficulties
encountered in the attempt to establish and oper-
ate a token economy in a maximum-security psy-
chiatric hospital. This system did not fail in its
I In a therapeutic setting a token economy is a system which pro-
vides rewards for adaptive behavior.
2 See review by A. E. Kazdin and R. R. Bootzin: The Token Econ-
omy: An Evaluative Review, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,
1972, 5, pp. 343-372.
3 M. Serber, A Word of Warning to Behavior Modifiers Working
in a Restrictive Social Setting, Behavior Therapy, 1972, 3, pp. 517-519.

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