Risk, need and responsivity

The Department of Corrections has adopted the Psychology of Criminal Conduct (Andrews & Bonta, 2003) that proposes the principles of risk, need and responsivity for effective offender rehabilitation. Dowden and Andrews (1999) state that it remains unclear whether the risk-need-responsivity principles 1 can be generalised to the female offender population, although the principles themselves appear applicable to this group of offenders. Through a meta-analytic review they found that these principles of effective correctional treatment "were important contributors to treatment outcome for female offenders" (Dowden & Andrews, 1999, p. 448-449) although gender was not considered a specific responsivity issue. Rehabilitation can only be successful if "it targets the characteristics of the offender directly related to their offending behaviour, and if that intervention is delivered in a way that takes account of the individual characteristics of the offender" (Byrne & Howells, 2000, p. 6). Covington and Bloom (1998) and King (2004) have proposed principles and criteria related to gender-specific programmes for female offenders.

However, Koons, Burrow, Morash and Bynum (1997) dispute the finding that the application of the risk/need/responsivity principles results in reduction of female offending (Monster & Micucci, 2005). Also Howells (2000) is not convinced that the risk/need/responsivity principles can be applied to female offenders. He argues that using level of risk as a treatment criterion poses problems for women "because less information is available about correlates of re-offending for women; the reliability and validity of risk assessment measures is more uncertain; risk of recidivism may be less an issue in treatment targeting; focus is more on harm to self and family and on problematic institutional behaviour" (p. 4), as a consequence of for instance mental health and substance abuse problems (Department of Corrections, 2002). Problematic behaviour in prison may be of more concern to prison staff and inmates than offending behaviours. Howells (2000) concluded that for women risk may need to be defined and measured differently. Further, it appears that both criminogenic and noncriminogenic needs for women need to be assessed for further treatment and rehabilitation as female offenders have multiple areas of need" the maximum security women even more than lower security women (Howells, 2000). Some needs associated with mental health problems, self-harm, trauma, responsibility for children and substance abuse are very different from men and need a different focus in treatment (Byrne & Howells, 2000; Hart, 2000; Morash, Bynum, & Koons, 1998). This, according to Howells (2000), inevitably has to lead to the conclusion that although males and females have some characteristics related to crime in common, in rehabilitation distinctive features of female offenders need to be taken into account. Treatment programmes need to adjust content and process.

Blanchette (2001) summarises the different opinions and evidence in this regard. "While current policy and practice demonstrate an understanding of the need for gender specificity, substantiating support for such models is virtually absent" (p. 3). She concludes that risk classification measures are lacking predictive validity when applied to women. Furthermore, she states that it is not the needs principle itself that has been questioned but rather which needs are criminogenic for female offenders. Further, she comments that there is some empirical evidence to support that criminogenic factors for male offenders are also relevant for female offenders "but their level of importance and the nature of association may differ" (p. 33). Further, female offenders may have additional criminogenic needs.

Risk assessment of female offenders involves possibly "different factors or varying levels of factors" (Lowenkamp, Holsinger, & Latessa, 2001, p. 546) or exposure to risk factors "may present different challenges for female and male offenders" (Chesney-Lind, 1987 in Lowenkamp, Holsinger, & Latessa, 2001, p. 547), such as physical and sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Sorbello, Eccleston, Ward and Jones (2002) propose to use an enhancement model 2 rather than the risk management model to direct rehabilitation of female offenders. The enhancement model "attempts to reduce recidivism by enhancing offender capabilities (i.e. noncriminogenic needs) to improve quality of life" (Sorbello, Eccleston, Ward, & Jones, 2002, p. 198). Their suggestion comes from the problems associated with applying the risk/need/responsivity principles to female offenders. Research indicates more and more that gender-specific risk factors exist and that the risk principle "requires gender-specific definition, measurement and focus" (Sorbello, Eccleston, Ward, & Jones, 2002, p. 199). In respect of the needs principle, "studies highlight the additional importance of noncriminogenic needs in treating women offenders" (p. 199), an approach overlooked in Andrews and Bonta's model for offenders in general (see also Ward & Stewart, 2003 and Ward, Mann, & Gannon, in press). Andrews, Bonta and Wormith (2004a) acknowledge this in their discussion of the LS/CMI. Finally, antecedents of problems appear to differ for male and female offenders and thus the responsivity principle also poses problems when not adjusted to the differing needs of women. Sorbello, Eccleston, Ward and Jones (2002) identify the obstacles "that prevent women from meeting fundamental needs" (p. 199): dissociation, self-medication with drugs, alcohol or self-harm in order to cope with experiences of abuse and neglect ("offending behaviour therefore, may be a final product of coping inadequacies", p. 199); borderline personality disorder, depression, anger control and poor self-esteem; pressing issues like dependent children, pregnancy and family bonds; unemployment, vocational goals, life skills and knowledge of access to community support agencies. The authors suggest an integrated treatment model that incorporates female-specific programmes. Some work has been done in the Department of Corrections, with focus on substance abuse, relationships and associates in criminogenic programmes for female offenders, following suggestions made in this area (Department of Corrections, 2003a; King, 2004).

Summarised, the principles of risk, need and responsivity have generated debate about their application to female offenders, although the principles appear to contribute to effective rehabilitation programmes for women. In particular risk classification measures are lacking predictive validity for female offenders. Further, it remains unclear which needs can be considered criminogenic for women although evidence exists that in general males and females have similar criminogenic needs. However, women appear to also have additional criminogenic needs. Rehabilitation needs to take specific gender-related responsivity issues into account.

1 Risk principle: Criminal behaviour can be predicted and treatment services should be matched to the level of risk of the offender. Needs principle: Treatment should target needs that have direct relevance to reducing re-offending, i.e. criminogenic needs. Criminogenic needs are dynamic risk factors that, when changed, are associated with changes in the probability of recidivism. "Research has been sorely lacking regarding the applicability of this principle to female offenders" (Dowden & Andrews, 1999, p. 440). Responsivity principle: This refers to delivering programmes in a style and mode that is consistent with the ability and learning style of the offender (Andrews & Bonta, 2003).

2 The Good Lives Model or enhancement model "is concerned with the enhancement of offenders" capabilities in order to attain primary human goods, and by doing so, reduce their chances of committing further crimes against the community when they are released from prison. Primary human goods are states of affairs, states of mind, personal characteristics, activities, or experiences that are sought for their own sake and are likely to increase psychological well-being if achieved. … In no particular order, the primary goods are: life (including healthy living and functioning), knowledge, excellence in work and play (including mastery experiences), excellence in agency (i.e., autonomy and self-directedness), inner peace (i.e., freedom from emotional turmoil and stress), friendship (including intimate, romantic, and family relationships), community, spirituality (in the broad sense of finding meaning and purpose in life), happiness, and creativity. Instrumental or secondary goods provide concrete ways (or the means) of securing these goods, for example, certain types of work (i.e., good of mastery), relationships (i.e., good of intimacy), or leisure activities (i.e., good of play)" (Ward & Gannon, in press, p. 3).