Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT)

Intervention Basics

Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) seeks to decrease recidivism among both juvenile and adult criminal offenders by increasing moral reasoning. MRT is systematic and implements a cognitive-behavioral approach, which positively addresses an adolescent’s ego, social, moral, and positive behavioral growth.

MRT uses 12-16 objectively defined steps, which focus on seven basic treatment issues:

  • Confrontation of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors
  • Assessment of current relationships
  • Reinforcement of positive behavior and habits
  • Positive identity formation
  • Enhancement of self-concept
  • Decrease in hedonism and development of frustration tolerance
  • Development of higher stages of moral reasoning
Expectations of Sessions:
Individual and groups sessions. Groups meet once or twice weekly and can range in length from 3-6 months.

Recommended Populations

  • 18-25 (Young adult)
  • 26-55 (Adult)
  • Male and Female
  • Black or African American; White; Non-U.S. population
  • Correctional 

Special Considerations for Juvenile Drug Courts (JDCs)

While MRT is widely used in the U.S., there is limited research to support the use of MRT for U.S. adolescents and to support a reduction of adolescent substance use and/or abuse. According to a meta-analysis study of MRT published in 2005 by Gregory L. Little, The Las Cruces, New Mexico JDC showed a recidivism rate of .175 for the treated participants as compared to a .44 recidivism rate for the nonMRT-treated participants. A comprehensive report of the El Paso County JDC Program published in 2008 by Rosie Medina found that after MRT was implemented in 2005, there was a dramatic improvement in behavior and cognitive decision-making by their participants. A study of the successful outcomes of the Anne Arundel County, Maryland Juvenile Treatment Court done in 2007 Robert A. Kirchner and Cristin E. S. Tolen found that implementing MRT was effective in reducing recidivism (only 8.6% re-offend as compared to the previous rate of 31% before the implementation of MRT), retaining clients in treatment (68.5% retention rate), and graduating clients (a doubling of the number of successful graduates).

The success rate of MRT has been deemed meaningful enough that MRT has been granted “Evidence-Based Practice Status” with adults and “Promising Practice Status” with juveniles by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), as “Evidence-Based Practice” by the Oregon Department of Human Services, and as “Evidence-Based Practice” by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in their 2011 Sourcebook of Delinquency Interventions. The Research Update on Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts released by the NADCP in 2010 found that when JDCs incorporate evidence-based practices into their program and tailor their interventions to the cognitive and maturational levels of adolescents, reductions in delinquency and substance abuse have been higher than without these types of practices and interventions.

Given that there is still such a limited amount of research supporting this type of treatment within a juvenile drug court, JDC teams should consider utilizing a different approach or using MRT in conjunction with a evidence-based treatment that focuses on adolescent substance use and/or abuse until further research is available supporting its effectiveness within this specific population.  

Engagement Strategies

JDC teams are encouraged to ask treatment providers targeted questions regarding the use of MRT as a single therapy within a JDC program, especially since the research relies so heavily on its use with adult males. Engage treatment providers to participate in open discussions with the team to review outcomes and research.

Implementation Requirements/Recommendations

Visit Correctional Counseling, Inc. (CCI) to research costs associated with the therapy and training opportunities. 

For more detailed information regarding research and replications associated with MRT, visit: