Responsivity: The Other Classification Principle

By Kennedy, Sharon | Corrections Today, February 1999 | Go to article overview

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. …

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