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Risk, Need, and Responsivity (RNR)

While risk, need, and responsivity (RNR) falls under EBP (Hanser, 2014), its high level of importance to the field of community supervision necessitates its redundancy within this website. To achieve long-term public safety, it is not enough just to monitor and enforce court-ordered conditions of supervision. These activities of community corrections aid in protecting short-term public safety objectives; however, long-term public safety can be achieved only if justice-involved individuals stay out of the justice system by not committing new crimes.

RNR principles are the cornerstones of modern community corrections practice based on EBP to reduce recidivism. Understanding RNR is essential for implementing effective correctional interventions aimed at reducing recidivism with individuals on supervision (Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990). The risk principle asserts that the likelihood of future criminal and delinquent behavior can be reliably predicted and that treatment/interventions should focus on the higher risk offenders (i.e., those most likely to re-offend). The need principle highlights the importance of identifying and focusing interventions and treatments based on the criminogenic needs of the individual offender (i.e., need factors that are highly correlated with the likelihood of recidivism). The responsivity principle recognizes that how an individual will respond to certain interventions and treatment will depend largely on his or her unique characteristics and attributes; therefore, interventions and treatment options should be chosen for individuals based on their responsivity factors (e.g., gender, learning differences) (Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, 2009).

Brian Lovins PhD, Assistant Director, Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Harris County, TX
Brian talks about the need to tailor the intervention response to the individual.


Principles of Risk, Needs and Responsivity

  1. Research has shown that treatment delivered to high-risk offenders can reduce recidivism, AND it has shown that treatment for low-risk offenders has little positive effect on recidivism rates. Consequently, a reliable assessment of offender risk can ensure that high-risk offenders receive more treatment services than low-risk offenders. [1]

  2. This principle tells us what to treat. Risk assessments should examine criminogenic needs -- meaning those needs correlated to crime. [1] and [2]

  3. Responsivity Principle:
    “Be responsive to temperament, learning style, motivation, gender, and culture when assigning to programs.”(p. xi) [2]

Although the focus of these recommendations is on enhancing education about community corrections, the RNR model is not limited to application within the community corrections component of corrections. In essence, screening/assessment should be used throughout the corrections process to inform the decision-making process about appropriate classification levels, level of supervision needed, targeted interventions and programming, etc. from the time a person enters the justice system until they are successfully discharged from the system. Using actuarial tools based upon known risk factors and criminogenic needs takes the decisions made about risk level, classification and supervision levels, and interventions to a level beyond subjective judgment and intuition.

Barbara Broderick, Chief Adult Probation Officer, Maricopa County Adult Probation Department 
Barbara shares her insight on using a validated risk assessment.


Colleges and universities should incorporate specific instruction on the risk, need and responsivity principles of effective correctional intervention within criminal justice degree programs, along with examples of how RNR principles are implemented when working with individuals on supervision.

In general, community corrections leaders are interested in entry-level workers having a general understanding of actuarial versus non-actuarial assessment instruments, the history of risk assessment in corrections, what the RNR principles are, and how they can be applied in the work that corrections professionals do with justice-involved individuals. They also want entry-level workers to understand the difference between static and dynamic risk factors, what protective factors are and how they can contribute to reductions in recidivism.

In this vignette you will observe a community supervision officer interviewing a probationer for information to complete a risk assessment. The banners displayed throughout the video depicts demonstrated communication skills.


[1] Bonta, J., & Andrews, D.A. (2017). The psychology of criminal conduct (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

[2] National Institute of Corrections. (October 2009). Implementing evidence-based policy and practice in community corrections (2nd ed).