How do we change course? Navigating obstacles to develop and implement a risk-need-responsivity model in a correctional setting.

Author:Nassen, Nikole
Position:Correctional Health Perspectives - Report

One of the greatest challenges of providing rehabilitative services within a correctional setting is maintaining a program that is state-of-the-art. Research is ongoing, and what was revolutionary 20 years ago may be insufficient and potentially harmful in current programming. However, knowing the possibility of falling behind with research and being able to keep pace with the ever-evolving research is difficult. In this article, the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar utilized challenges and obstacles in transitioning its sex offender treatment program to the risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) model as a guide for others considering similar transitions. While the work was specific for a sex offender program, research, in support of the RNR model, is growing throughout the different treatment arenas and the obstacles to overcome implementation of new programs are universal.


OBSTACLE ONE: Determining a new program

To determine what direction your program should progress, it is important to evaluate the current research regularly, attend conferences and consult with outside facilities and field experts. Research through these means led to the RNR model, which has been researched extensively and found to be an effective model of treatment for sex offenders, (1) domestic violent offenders, (2) drug offenders (3) and juvenile offenders. (4)

The risk principle states that the level and intensity of treatment should match the offender's risk level. (5) Thus, to meet this principle, an agency must determine the risk of an offender through a risk assessment and then match the level of service to the offender's risk. A growing body of research suggests that offenders with low risk should not be given intensive, offense-specific treatment, (6) a benefit which allows institutions to devote their resources toward those to whom it will most benefit.

The need principle indicates treatment targets are based on criminogenic needs in order to reduce the specific recidivism factors relevant to the individual offender. (7) In practice, this means offenders going through the same program may have different assignments specific to their own criminogenic needs. It also means offenders with the same criminogenic need may require different ways of approach. For example, a 42-year-old, thrice-married male and a 21-year-old, never-married male may both have relationship stability identified as a criminogenic need; however, their actual work on this need may be substantially different. The need principle necessitates the therapists be able to navigate these different needs and give their clients the most appropriate treatment.

The responsivity principle specifies treatment plans and interventions should match the offenders' learning styles and abilities. (8) This principle also focuses on the treatment motivation and engagement of the individual. Although this is often the most overlooked principle of the RNR model, it has been argued it is the most important. (9) Unfortunately, it is also often the most difficult to implement, especially within a correctional setting where there must be support from individuals outside the clinical treatment walls. Within the treatment room, responsivity includes providing materials in the client's native language, insuring the material is at an appropriate intellectual and reading level for those in the group (and potentially separating groups based on intellectual level), and giving significant attention to the therapeutic relationship. Outside of the treatment room, this includes creating opportunities for growth and change in the correctional environment, fostering the belief among the staff that people can change, and allowing for group members to demonstrate that change.

OBSTACLE TWO: Determining your path to a new program

Moving toward an RNR treatment model requires far more...

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