Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

The Risk Need Responsivity Model of Offender Rehabilitation: Is There Really a Need for a Paradigm Shift?

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

The Risk Need Responsivity Model of Offender Rehabilitation: Is There Really a Need for a Paradigm Shift?

Article excerpt

The Risk, Need and Responsivity (RNR) model (Andrews & Bonta, 2010) has been the prominent approach to the treatment of offenders in Canada, as well as other parts of the world (e.g., the U.K, New Zealand, and Australia) for three decades. The RNR approach and the theoretical model on which it is based have resulted in measurable gains in terms of the reliable assessment of offenders, as well as significant reductions in rates of recidivism among offenders treated in programs that have adopted this perspective (see Andrews & Bonta, 2010 for a summary). Treatment approaches consistent with the RNR principles have been demonstrated to lead to reductions in sexual offense recidivism (Hanson, Bourgon, Helmus & Hodgins, 2009), violent recidivism (Dowden & Andrews, 2000), and general recidivism (Andrews, Zinger et al., 1990). However, in the past decade this approach to correctional programming has been criticized (e.g., Laws & Ward, 2011; Ward & Stewart, 2003) as being too focused on risk management.

Ward and his colleagues (2003; Laws & Ward, 2011) have argued that the primary focus of RNR based approaches to treatment has been on the reduction of various deficits present in the individual, and that the RNR model pays insufficient attention to the person and the idiosyncratic goals that he/she may wish to address. They argue that these agentic needs must become a focus of contemporary treatment programs. The model proposed by Ward and his colleagues is influenced heavily by developments in the area of positive psychology, as opposed to a cognitive-behavioral/social learning framework, which has been the basis of RNR oriented programs. The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief outline of both the RNR approach and the theory of offending on which it is based, as well as a discussion of the Good Lives Model of treatment which has been advocated by Ward and his colleagues. Laws and Ward (2011) state that the Good Lives Model (GLM) they advocate represents a new theory of rehabilitation, the principles of which can be applied in a myriad of ways. Whether the model translates into genuinely new approaches to treatment in practice has not been addressed in detail to this point.

* Risk, Need and Responsivity

The RNR model is not a theory of intervention in itself, rather the RNR perspective represents principles of effective correctional intervention (Andrews & Bonta, 2010), within which a wide variety of therapeutic interventions can be used. Andrews and Bonta argue that a number of factors need to be considered in any comprehensive theory of criminal behavior, including biological/neurological issues, inheritance, temperament, and social and cultural factors, making note of the fact that criminal behavior is multi-factorial. From this general outline (which these authors label as the Psychology of Criminal Conduct), Andrews and Bonta have delineated three principles of effective corrections, termed Risk, Need and Responsivity. These principles have resulted in several decades of research that has revolutionized the practice of assessment and treatment of offender populations, and in which factors associated with RNR are clear, concise and empirically verifiable. We will return to the issue of empirical support when discussing the GLM.

Risk: With reference to the concept of risk, Andrews and Bonta (2010) argue that treatment should be reserved for higher risk groups of offenders, as assessed by actuarial assessment instruments. There are now many decades of research demonstrating that actuarially assessed risk is superior to unstructured clinical judgment (e.g., Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009).

Need: With reference to the concept of need, Andrews and Bonta (2010) are referring to criminogenic needs, established by the empirical literature as associated with recidivism in criminal populations. They identify eight central risk/need factors (the "Big Eight") for the development and maintenance of criminal behavior:

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