Responsivity: The Other Classification Principle
Kennedy, Sharon, Corrections Today
The responsivity principle is one of four principles of inmate classification outlined by researcher Don Andrews from Carleton University in Ottawa and his colleagues for purposes of effective correctional programming.(1,2) These principles are based on their detailed analysis of programs that showed above average success in reducing recidivism. The risk principle states that the intensity of the treatment intervention should be matched to the risk level of the offender. This is because higher-risk cases tend to respond better to intensive and extensive service, while low-risk cases respond better to minimal or no intervention. Once offenders are appropriately matched in this manner, attention should be directed to the needs that the treatment program should address. The need principle distinguishes between criminogenic and noncriminogenic needs. The former are dynamic risk factors (a subset of an offender's risk level) which, if changed, reduce the likelihood of criminal conduct.(3) In contrast, noncriminogenic needs, which are derived from character variables, such as personal distress and self-esteem, are considered inappropriate targets for treatment since their resolutions do not have significant impacts on recidivism. The responsivity principle states that styles and modes of treatment service must be closely matched to the preferred learning style and abilities of the offender.(1) Finally, the professional discretion principle states that, having reviewed risk, need and responsivity, there is a need for professional judgment, which can serve to override and improve the final offender assessment and decisions on programming strategies.
The responsivity principle has been a largely neglected area of study, despite the fact that offender responsivity and other variables related to offender motivation are widely recognized as critical to the success of treatment.(4) It is postulated that treatment readiness and responsivity must be assessed and considered in treatment planning if the maximum effectiveness of supervision and treatment programs is to be realized and if we want to ensure the successful reintegration of the offender into the community.(5,6)
The Responsivity Principle
Offenders differ significantly, not only in their levels of motivation to participate in treatment, but also in terms of their responsivity to various styles or modes of intervention. According to the responsivity principle, these factors impact directly on the effectiveness of correctional treatment and ultimately on recidivism. Consequently, various offender characteristics must be considered when assigning offenders to treatment programs.
Individual factors that interfere with or facilitate learning can be considered responsivity factors. Therefore, the assessment of responsivity-related variables is the first step in helping us determine how best to address an offender's criminogenic needs. This, in turn, can ensure that offenders derive the maximum therapeutic benefit from treatment. Therefore, prior to targeting criminogenic needs, it is important that responsivity factors be examined to prepare the offender for treatment.
The responsivity principle dictates that treatment programs should be delivered in a manner that facilitates the learning of new pro-social skills by the offender. In other words, it is necessary to match the characteristics of offenders, counselors and programs. If the responsivity principle is not adhered to, treatment programs can fail, not because they do not have therapeutic integrity or competent therapists, but because other offender-related barriers, such as cognitive/intellectual deficits, were not addressed, preventing the offender from understanding the content of the program. Thus, the three components of responsivity include matching the following: the treatment approach with the learning style of the offender; the characteristics of the offender with those of the counselor; and the skills of the counselor with the type of program they conduct.(6)
Internal vs. External Factors
Factors that interfere with or facilitate learning can be broken down into internal and external responsivity factors. Internal factors refer to individual offender characteristics, such as: motivation; personality characteristics (i.e., psychopathy, interpersonal anxiety, depression, mental illness, self-esteem, poor social skills); cognitive/intellectual deficits (i.e., low intelligence, concrete oriented thinking, inadequate problem-solving skills, poor verbal skills, low verbal intelligence, language deficits); and demographic variables (i.e., age, gender, race, ethnicity and class).(8,9) External factors refer to counselor characteristics (i.e., some counselors may work better with certain types of offenders) and setting characteristics (i.e., institution vs. community, individual vs. group). It is important to understand that external factors, in isolation, may not impact on responsivity, but rather those staff characteristics or setting characteristics interact with offender characteristics to affect responsivity either positively or negatively.
Responsivity factors are important when assessing and designing treatment programs. Specific responsivity factors merit comment since they are represented in most settings. Consideration of gender issues, ethnicity, age, social background (class) and life experiences may prove to be important for some types of treatment(10) because they contribute to the engagement of offenders to treatment and the development of therapeutic alliance.(11) For instance, recent research indicates that female offenders score significantly lower than male offenders on measures of self-esteem and self-efficacy.(12) Ignoring these issues may significantly impede offenders' compliance with treatment. Similarly, failure to consider these factors may contribute to inaccurate assessment of the motivation or readiness of individuals referred for treatment. This is not to imply that offenders and counselors must share similar characteristics and backgrounds, rather, treatment will be enhanced with respect to the extent to which such factors are considered. Effective matching of offenders' and counselors' "styles," as well as intensity of intervention, is central to the principle of treatment responsivity.(8)
Notwithstanding the fact that responsivity is clearly identified as the third principle of effective correctional treatment, there is a paucity of standardized measures in existence. The need for a systematic assessment of motivation, treatment readiness and the identification of treatment responsivity factors is clearly indicated. This is especially evident when working with offenders in the community who must participate in treatment as a special condition of their release. In order to more effectively manage risk, correctional practitioners would want to be able to assess their levels of motivation prior to being released into the community. Simply relying on their self-report of motivation to change is not enough. Further, motivation is a dynamic factor and can be reassessed over time. Needless to say, assessing and measuring progress in therapy is critical to effective risk management of offenders in the community.
The Level of Service Inventory-Ontario Revision (LSI-OR) is the first risk-assessment instrument to incorporate a section on "special responsivity considerations."(13) It should be noted that, although these items are not tallied as part of the risk score or level, they are factors to be considered in the broader case management of the offender and may indirectly impact on an offender's dynamic risk level. The special responsivity considerations measured by the instrument are: motivation as a barrier, denial/minimization; interpersonal anxiety; cultural issue; low intelligence; and communication barriers.
A theoretically based, multi-method assessment protocol for treatment readiness, responsivity and gain was developed in conjunction with the Research Branch of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) in order to contribute to the broader literature on effective correctional programming. The intent was to pilot an assessment battery which could be administered in conjunction with a range of correctional programs. Accordingly, the protocol was developed for generic application rather than for a particular type of treatment program.(14,15)
This was the first step in developing a systematic protocol for the assessment of treatment responsivity in the context of a risk/need management framework, in which treatment is an integral part of the risk management continuum. The second step has been completed and an interview-based assessment protocol for treatment readiness, responsivity and gain has been developed.(16) A set of guidelines for counselors' ratings and a more explicit scoring scheme has been created to maximize reliability. Also, plans are under way to develop a training package, to implement the revised protocol with a wide range of correctional programs and to begin data collection on the assessment protocol.
In order to augment an offender assessment and select and allocate treatment regimens, it would be useful to assess treatment readiness, motivation and treatability. The veracity of an offender's self-reported motivation to change may be questionable, particularly when he or she is attempting to secure an earlier release and, consequently, such reports should never be used in isolation. Some examples of items that should be considered would include whether or not the offender: recognizes he or she has a problem; is able to set treatment goals; is motivated for treatment; accepts responsibility for his or her problems; understands the costs and benefits of treatment; has previously engaged in treatment; and progress has been made therein; has access to significant support for his or her involvement in treatment; and is able to express his or her feelings and emotions. Additionally, one may wish to consider the offenders' personal views about treatment providers, his or her sense of self-efficacy in making changes and leading a pro-social life, and if the offender is cognizant of the emotional demands of treatment.
Personality and Attitudinal Characteristics
An offender's personality and attitudinal characteristics are key responsivity factors, as they will impact on the design of a treatment program. Temperamental and personality factors conducive to criminal activity, such as grandiosity, callousness, impulsivity, anger problems, egocentrism and poor problem-solving skills are all potential responsivity factors to consider. Attitudinal characteristics that should be assessed include antisocial attitudes, values and beliefs, techniques of neutralization (such as minimizing blame or projecting responsibility onto others), attitudes toward victims, and pro-criminal associates and isolation from anticriminal others.
Simply relying on an offender's report of how much he or she benefited from participation in treatment is insufficient. In a similar vein, program completion, in and of itself, does not provide us with any additional information in terms of how to effectively manage the risk level of the offender. Despite the obvious importance of measuring progress in treatment, this has been an often-neglected aspect of assessment. It is important for staff to measure knowledge of program content; skills acquisition; individual and group disclosure; offender confidence; transfer and generalization of skills to real life situations; insight; attendance; participation; performance; and therapeutic alliance.
The principle of responsivity, which includes the appropriate matching of offenders to programs and staff and the identification of factors that might mediate the effectiveness of treatment services, has not been given the attention it deserves. Offenders are not all alike, nor are all staff or treatment programs. The matching of offenders to treatment, counselors to offenders and counselors to the treatment groups that best match their skills, can improve an important consideration in risk management and risk reduction. Failure to appropriately assess and consider responsivity factors may not only undermine treatment gain and waste treatment resources, but also may decrease public safety.
1 Andrews, D.A., J.J. Kiessling, D. Robinson and S. Mickus, 1986.
2 Andrews, D.A., I. Zinger, J. Hoge, J. Bonta, P. Gen dreau and F.T. Cullen, 1990.
3 Gendreau, P., F.T. Cullen and J. Bonta, 1994.
4 Brown, M., 1996.
5 Kennedy, S. and R. Serin, 1997.
6 Kennedy, S. and R. Serin, 1999 (in press).
7 Gendreau, P., 1996.
8 Bonta, J., 1995.
9 Van Voorhis, P., 1997.
10 Andrews, D.A. and J. Bonta, 1994.
11 Dana, R., 1993.
12 McMurran, M., P. Tyler, T. Hogue, K. Cooper, W. Dunseath and D. McDaid, 1998.
13 McMurran, M., P. Tyler, T. Hogue, K. Cooper, W. Dunseath and D. McDaid. 1998.
14 Kennedy, S. and R. Serin, 1997.
15 Serin, R. and S. Kennedy, 1997.
16 Serin, R. and S. Kennedy, 1997.
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Serin, R. and S. Kennedy. 1997. Treatment readiness and responsivity: Contributing to effective correctional programming. Correctional Service Canada research report, R-54.
Serin, R. and S. Kennedy. 1997. Assessment protocol for treatment readiness, responsivity and gain. Correctional Service Canada Research Report.
Van Voorhis, P. 1997. Correctional classification and the "responsivity principle." Forum on Corrections Research, 9(1): 46-50.
Sharon Kennedy, Ph.D., C. Psych., is a district psychologist for the Eastern and Northern Ontario Parole District, Correctional Service Canada.…
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Publication information: Article title: Responsivity: The Other Classification Principle. Contributors: Kennedy, Sharon - Author. Magazine title: Corrections Today. Volume: 61. Issue: 1 Publication date: February 1999. Page number: 48+. © 2009 American Correctional Association, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.