The Risk-Need-Responsivity Model of Assessment and Human Service in Prevention and Corrections: Crime-Prevention Jurisprudence

By Andrews, D. A.; Dowden, Craig | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, October 2007 | Go to article overview

The Risk-Need-Responsivity Model of Assessment and Human Service in Prevention and Corrections: Crime-Prevention Jurisprudence


Andrews, D. A., Dowden, Craig, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


This article addresses issues having to do with risk assessment and justice processing in the context of the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model of crime prevention and correctional rehabilitation (Andrews, Bonta, and Hoge 1990; Andrews, Zinger, Hoge, Bonta, Gendreau, and Cullen 1990; Gendreau 1996; Andrews 2001; McGuire 2004). RNR is closely associated with a general-personality and cognitive-social-learning theory of criminal behaviour. One version of this theoretical approach is known as the Personal, Interpersonal, and Community Reinforcement (PIC-R) perspective (Andrews and Bonta 2003; Andrews 2006).

The holistic and truly interdisciplinary general-personality and social psychology of human behaviour that is associated with RNR is developing at quickly in all three major spheres: research, theory, and application (generally, see Baumeister and Vohs 2004; in regard to crime, see McGuire 2004: chs. 3, 4). This general-personality and social psychology is impressive, but "as is true of all of psychology, [it] remains a work in progress" (Carver 2004: 33). Incomplete without a doubt, but RNR and PIC-R provide a relatively powerful model of crime and crime prevention that some believe to be the pre-eminent evidence-based model for rehabilitative programming in youth and adult corrections (McGuire 2004; Ogloff and Davis 2004).

The National Institute of Corrections (2004) and the International Community Corrections Association (2) are also strong proponents of RNR. Even clinical psychologists who call for increased attention to the personal fulfilment of offenders (Ward, Melser, and Yates 2007: 3) say that RNR "has constituted a revolution in the way criminal conduct is managed in Canada, Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand." Revolution or not, in two decades, the field has moved from "nothing works" through "what works" to now "making what works work" (Andrews 2006).

The Canadian Parliament has made it clear that rehabilitation is a primary concern at sentencing, albeit not necessarily the paramount concern (Department of Justice 2003; 2005). Because we are talking about a model of crime and corrections, this article is not just another summary of the conditions under which risk assessments predict recidivism. Rather, we consider RNR and cognitive-social-learning theory as a guide to enhancing the contributions of the legal and court systems to crime prevention.

This might be called an exercise in therapeutic jurisprudence (Birgden 2004; McGuire 2004), but we are not comfortable with the clinical language of forensic mental health. We are not against the law and justice systems' being used to "enhance well-being" or to promote "therapeutic effects." However, confusion of process (therapy) and outcome (enhanced well-being) is problematic. Indeed, in many personal, interpersonal, and social domains, therapy is perhaps one of the least common and least powerful of routes to enhanced well-being relative to achievement and fulfilment. Additionally, reduced criminal victimization (i.e., crime prevention) is itself a more obvious source of personal well-being for both offenders and victims than is therapy. Moreover, successful enhancement of the well-being of criminals may well increase crime if other major causal variables for crime remain untouched (recall Stephen Wormith's [1984] careful analysis of the conditions under which self-control and self-esteem may interact with antisocial cognition in relation to crime). Most readers can appreciate the image of a well-adjusted, happy, and personally fulfilled criminal (the image of a psychopath comes easily to mind). Overall, the phrase therapeutic jurisprudence does not sufficiently underscore the importance of the objective of reduced offending in the context of law and justice, on the one hand, relative to the health and mental-health objective of enhanced well-being through therapy, on the other. Reducing victimization is a worthy primary goal that shouldn't be understood as incidental or secondary to personal fulfilment. …

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