Does Risk Change Simply Indicate Current Risk for Recidivism or Something More? A Review of the Predictive Value of Intraindividual Change

Published date01 August 2023
AuthorSimon T. Davies,Caleb D. Lloyd,Devon L. L. Polaschek
Date01 August 2023
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2023, Vol. 50, No. 8, August 2023, 1102 –1119.
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© 2023 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
A Review of the Predictive Value of Intraindividual
Victoria University of Wellington
Swinburne University of Technology and Forensicare
University of Waikato
Swinburne University of Technology and Forensicare
University of Waikato
In this review article, we critically analyze the relationship between change in dynamic risk (i.e., intraindividual change) and
recidivism. We start by reviewing the empirical evidence, which indicates intraindividual change is associated with recidi-
vism. However, we highlight how the predictive value of change scores needs careful interpretation. The finding that change
scores predict incrementally over baseline scores may simply reflect the improved accuracy of a more recent assessment.
Alternatively, the degree of change preceding the reassessment may be relevant in addition to the current level of dynamic
risk at reassessment. We propose theoretical reasons why past change may be relevant for prediction beyond current risk
scores. Furthermore, the empirical evidence suggests prior change may contain information not solely reflected within the
current risk score, but the current evidence has several limitations. Due to the important implications for correctional practice,
we encourage further research that more directly examines this question.
Keywords: dynamic risk; prediction; recidivism; rehabilitation; risk assessment
Assessing an individual’s risk of recidivism has long been central to correctional psy-
chology, but recently, attention has shifted to assessing change in an individual’s risk
of recidivism. This shift has been driven by a more widespread use of risk assessment
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Aspects of the conceptual discussion in this article were previously presented in Simon
T. Davies’s doctoral thesis at Victoria University of Wellington (see Davies, 2019).Correspondence concerning
this article should be addressed to Simon T. Davies, Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne
University of Technology and Forensicare, Level 1, 582 Heidelberg Road, Alphington, Victoria 3078, Australia;
1174905CJBXXX10.1177/00938548231174905Criminal Justice and BehaviorDavies et al. / Intraindividual Change and Recidivism
measures derived from dynamic (i.e., variable) risk factors, rather than measures derived
solely from static (i.e., unchangeable) risk factors (Bonta & Andrews, 2016; Serin et al.,
2016). Change in risk of recidivism at the individual level, or intraindividual change, can
only be assessed using measures derived from dynamic risk factors. Such assessments can
have serious consequences in correctional settings. In prison, for example, an assessment of
change can affect whether an individual is granted early release (Beggs, 2010); in the com-
munity, it can determine the level of supervision or indicate the need for immediate inter-
vention. These decisions rely on the assumption that intraindividual change is associated
with recidivism. Until recently, that assumption was largely untested, but support for the
association between intraindividual change and recidivism is emerging. As this evidence
grows, researchers and practitioners need a clear understanding of how to interpret this
research and apply it to practice.
In this article, we analyze the relationship between intraindividual change and recidi-
vism. We start by briefly reviewing the current state of empirical research. Subsequently,
we examine the different ways this research can be interpreted and consider the implica-
tions those different interpretations have for practice. We focus on the role of intraindividual
change in the prediction of recidivism. We question whether it is only the risk score after the
period of purported change that is relevant to this prediction or whether the amount of prior
score change is additionally relevant. To answer that question, we discuss reasons why
intraindividual change might have an incremental predictive value and assess relevant
empirical evidence. We finish with a discussion of the implications for practice and research.
The association between intraindividual change and recidivism is central to the risk-
need-responsivity (RNR; Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990) model of effective correctional
intervention, the dominant model in correctional psychology (Polaschek, 2012). The RNR
model was developed in response to claims that rehabilitative efforts did not reduce recidi-
vism (e.g., Martinson, 1974). Initial proponents of the RNR model argued that these claims
were based on a misreading of the existing research evidence. Using then new meta-analytic
techniques, they highlighted how rehabilitation programs adhering to key principles consis-
tently demonstrated significant reductions in recidivism (Andrews, Zinger, et al., 1990). In
the RNR model, the association between change and recidivism is primarily specified in the
need principle, which states that interventions should target variables “that, when influ-
enced, are associated with changes in the chance of recidivism” (Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge,
1990, p. 20). These dynamic risk factors, referred to in the context of correctional rehabili-
tation as criminogenic needs, include both internal features of an individual such as atti-
tudes and external features of the individual’s environment or circumstances such as
employment situation.
Later research has further established that rehabilitation programs targeting criminogenic
needs are more effective at reducing recidivism than programs targeting noncriminogenic
needs (Bonta & Andrews, 2016; Smith et al., 2009). The research usually assumes that intra-
individual change is the mechanism driving the reduction in recidivism although, for years,
there was little empirical research testing that assumption (Douglas & Skeem, 2005). Two
comprehensive reviews (Beggs, 2010; Serin et al., 2013) highlighted the few studies that
conducted such tests. For example, Serin et al. (2013) found that only 17 of 378 cognitive

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