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Section 2. The Risk-Need-Responsivity Model for Assessment and Rehabilitation

Principles of Effective Correctional Intervention

Latessa and his colleagues identify eight principles of effective correctional intervention. They are included here so you can better understand how to increase the chance of successful intervention. Tools such as the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI) are available to determine the extent to which your strategy meets these principles.

Principle 1. Organizational Culture
Principle 2. Program Implementation/Maintenance
Principle 3. Management/Staff Characteristics
Principle 4. Client Risk/Need Practices
Principle 5. Program Characteristics
Principle 6. Core Correctional Practice
Principle 7. Inter-Agency Communication
Principle 8. Evaluation

From Latessa, Edward J., Cullen, Francis T., and Gendreau, Paul. 2002. “Beyond Correctional Quackery—Professionalism and the Possibility of Effective Treatment.” Federal Probation. 66(2): 43-49.

In the last section, we frequently used the terms risk and needs. In this section, you will learn the research behind the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model and why this model is an important concept to understand when carrying out the 10 tasks outlined in the Targeted Intervention Strategies section of the TJC Implementation Roadmap.

Risk-Need-Responsivity Model

Researchers have spent years formulating the principles of effective intervention strategies for correctional populations. Many researchers support the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model, which states that the risk and needs of the incarcerated individual should determine the strategies appropriate for addressing the individual's criminogenic factors before and after release.

According to Don Andrews and James Bonta, leading criminal justice scholars, the RNR model is based on the following three principles:1

1. Risk principle. Match the level of service to the offender's risk of reoffending, based on static factors (e.g., age at first arrest, history of arrest, current age) and dynamic factors (e.g., substance abuse, antisocial attitudes). Higher-risk offenders should receive more intensive intervention.

2. Need principle. Assess criminogenic needs and target them in treatment. High-risk offenders should receive intensive treatment, while low-risk offenders should receive minimal or no treatment.

3. Responsivity principle. Maximize the offender's ability to learn from a rehabilitative intervention by providing cognitive behavioral treatment and tailoring the intervention to the learning style, motivation, abilities, and strengths of the offender.

Terms to Know

The probability that an offender will commit additional offenses
Criminogenic Need:
Factors that research has shown have a direct link to offending and can be changed.
Matching an offender's personality and learning style with appropriate program settings and approaches

Criminogenic needs are dynamic (changeable) risk factors that are proven through research to affect recidivism. These factors include:2

  • Antisocial values, beliefs, and cognitive-emotional states.
  • Rage, anger, defiance, criminal identity.
  • Antisocial friends.
  • Isolation from prosocial others.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • Impulsive behavior.
  • Family dysfunction, such as criminality, psychological problems, abuse, neglect.
  • Low levels of personal education.

Click here for a TJC Leadership Profile on Gevonnia Thurman, Correctional Officer, Thinking for a Change Instructor in Jacksonville, Florida.

Criminologist Edward Latessa believes that programming focused on cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective way to treat criminogenic needs. As he states, “Thinking and behavior are linked: offenders behave like criminals because they think like criminals; changing thinking is the first step towards changing behavior.” 3

Risk and Public Safety

Risk relates to the actual and perceived threats that offenders released from jail pose to the safety and property of potential victims in the community.4 Imagine such risks as being on a continuum:  At one end are offenders who are too dangerous to be safely managed in the community and at the other end are offenders who pose no real risk to public safety.

When determining where a person falls on the continuum (risk assessment), you need to consider a number of factors (criminogenic needs) that research has shown are associated with recidivism. These criminogenic needs are dynamic, in that they can change over time.5 Ensuring that the returning inmate has accessed and will continue to access partnership services that address criminogenic needs is critical for managing and reducing any potential risks he or she may pose to the community.

1 Bonta, James and D. A. Andrews. 2007. Risk-Need-Responsivity Model for Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada, June. Available at:

2 Latessa, Edward J., Cullen, Francis T., and Gendreau, Paul. 2002. “Beyond Correctional Quackery: Professionalism and the Possibility of Effective Treatment.” Federal Probation 66(2): 43-49.

3 Chapman, Tim, and Hough, M. 1998. Evidence-based Practice: A Guide to Effective Practice. London: Home Office Publications Unit.

4 Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Intensive Program Prisons web page.

Section 2: Resources

  1. Fretz, Ralph. 2006. What  Makes  A  Correctional Treatment Program Effective: Do the Risk, Need, and Responsivity Principles (RNR)  Make a Difference in Reducing Recidivism? This article describes the risk-needs-responsivity model, and the importance of generating a treatment environment. 
  2. Grattet, Ryken, Jesse Jannetta, and Jeff Lin. 2006. Evidence-based Practice in Corrections: A Training Manual for the California Program Assessment Process (CPAP).  University of California, Irvine: Center for Evidence-Based Corrections.
  3. National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women. An online resource for professionals, policymakers, and practitioners who work with adult women involved in the criminal justice system.
  4. Scott, Wayne. 2008. Effective Clinical Practices in Treating Clients in the Criminal Justice System. Boston, Mass: Crime and Justice Institute.

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Targeted Interventions Strategies module. Please answer the following question.

Criminogenic needs refer to:


Now that you have completed this section, you should understand the basis for effective practices central to the TJC model. By accurately assessing risk, you can determine the most appropriate treatment interventions. You should understand that only needs that are directly related to offending should be the subject of interventions. Interventions should be responsive to the offender's individual learning style, motivation, abilities, and strengths.