Veerle Poels
Department of Corrections, Psychological Service Rotorua
September 2005

The Department of Corrections has recognised that women offenders have specific needs, prompting the development of policies on security classification of female offenders (Department of Corrections, 2002) and enhancing the effectiveness of offender management for women offenders (Department of Corrections, 2003a). In the latter framework, women child sex offenders and serious violent offenders are recognised as the first priority in targeting women for treatment programmes.

The key issue in assessing risk of re-offending of female offenders is pointed out by Nicholls, Ogloff and Douglas (2004) in their discussion of risk assessment of violence. They state that two different perspectives exist in assessing women's risk for violence. The "gendered perspective" believes that "women's crime and violence is linked closely with their unique experiences … and, therefore, a valid assessment of future violence risk is likely to require an appreciation of their status as women" (p. 130) with attention to different factors associated with violence in comparison with males. The other perspective is non-gendered and "posits that existing risk assessment measures, developed and validated with men, likely are valid for use with women" (p. 130).

In keeping with the risk-need-responsivity principles (Andrews & Bonta, 2003) adopted by the Department of Corrections, this paper presents key findings from a literature review of key components relating to assessment of risk of re-offending by violent and sexual female offenders and female offenders" criminogenic needs against the Department's Psychological Service's current practice. Findings of studies on female offenders are seldom comparable because the research foci are confined to specific offender groups in specific circumstances generating subtle outcomes. The present paper concludes with recommended guidelines for risk assessment of sexual and violent female offenders.