One State’s Use of Program Evaluation to Improve Correctional Practices

Date01 February 2018
Published date01 February 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 34(1) 81 –96
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986217750639
One State’s Use of Program
Evaluation to Improve
Correctional Practices
Lori Brusman Lovins1 and Edward J. Latessa2
Trends in criminal justice programming can sometimes lead one to question the
direction the field is taking related to rehabilitation. This article presents one state’s
attempt to evaluate the quality of residential treatment services in the state across
a primary and then follow-up outcome evaluation. This article outlines study results
specific to treatment effects by risk. The study finds consistent evidence in support
of the risk principle across both studies. The article also outlines what the state did
with the recommendations from these studies, and how that affected the delivery of
correctional programming in that state.
correctional program evaluation, evidence-based practices, risk principle, RNR
Research on the principles of effective intervention, otherwise known as the risk, need,
responsivity (RNR) principles, has existed for nearly three decades (Andrews, Bonta, &
Hoge, 1990; Andrews et al., 1990; Gendreau, 1996; Gendreau & Andrews, 1990). The
quantitative reviews of correctional interventions that make up this body of knowledge
contributed to the shift from the Martinson’s (1974) “nothing works” era to the “what
works” period we are currently in (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). These research findings
have been widely used to inform evidence-based correctional policy and practices.
There has been a myriad of research to support the principles of effective interven-
tion (see Andrews & Bonta, 2010). In general, this model subscribes to a
human service philosophy. Accordingly, there are few studies that empirically support
1University of Houston–Downtown, TX, USA
2University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Lori Brusman Lovins, Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work, University of Houston–Downtown,
One Main St., Houston, TX 77002-1001, USA.
750639CCJXXX10.1177/1043986217750639Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeBrusman Lovins and Latessa
82 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 34(1)
a punitive or “control-based” philosophy. Correctional interventions based on punish-
ment and deterrence in absence of rehabilitation efforts tend to produce negative treat-
ment effects (Gendreau, Goggin, Cullen, & Andrews, 2000; Lowenkamp, Flores,
Holsinger, Makarios, & Latessa, 2010; MacKenzie, 2000; Petersilia, 1998; Smith,
Goggin, & Gendreau, 2002). The same can be found with juveniles. For example,
Lipsey (2009) concluded that interventions using control-based strategies increased
recidivism by up to 8%, whereas those using a therapeutic or treatment-oriented
approach had an average recidivism reduction of 12%.
Although there is evidence to support a human service approach in corrections, not
all treatment approaches pack the same punch. There are numerous studies that support
the importance of incorporating the RNR principles into correctional interventions. The
risk principle asserts that we must (a) accurately classify offenders by likelihood of
recidivism, via use of actuarial risk assessment, and (b) use that information of match
offenders to the appropriate supervision and treatment program, commensurate with
risk level (Andrews et al., 1990). High to moderate risk offenders respond best to inten-
sive interventions, whereas low risk individuals generally respond poorly to these same
programs (Andrews & Dowden, 2006; Latessa, Brusman Lovins, & Smith, 2010;
Lowenkamp & Latessa, 2004; Lowenkamp, Latessa, & Lemke, 2006). This finding has
also been supported with specialized populations, such as juveniles (Lipsey, 2009),
females (Lovins, Lowenkamp, Latessa, & Smith, 2007), and sex offenders (Hanson,
Bourgon, Helmus, & Hodgson, 2009; Lovins, Lowenkamp, & Latessa, 2009).
The second principle is the need principle. This principle asserts that programs
should target the dynamic risk factors correlated with recidivism, namely, criminogenic
needs. The primary criminogenic need factors include antisocial attitudes, personality
and peers, lack of employment/education, family issues, substance abuse, and unstruc-
tured leisure time (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). In addition to ascertaining risk level,
when a dynamic risk assessment is used, criminogenic needs can be identified and used
to develop treatment or case plans (Andrews, 1999; Bonta, 2002). When programs fail
to target a range of criminogenic needs, treatment outcomes are affected. Gendreau,
French, and Taylor (2002) found that programs that target four to six more crimino-
genic than noncriminogenic needs show a significantly stronger effect size (ES = .31).
The final component of the RNR model is the responsivity principle. This principle
has two components. Specific responsivity suggests that one must address personal
learning styles and potential barriers to successful completion of a correctional inter-
vention. For example, although needs such as mental health, trauma history, and intel-
lectual functioning may not be predictive of future offending, these factors can serve
as barriers to successful completion of treatment or supervision. As such, they should
be addressed, with the goal of increasing the likelihood of retention and completion of
a program (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). The general responsivity principle carries much
more empirical backing than specific responsivity. General responsivity asserts that
correctional programs use a therapeutic model deemed effective at changing offender
behavior; the cognitive-behavioral and social learning models have shown consistent
effectiveness across a range of populations (Izzo & Ross, 1990; Landenberger &
Lipsey, 2005; Lipsey & Wilson, 1998; Pearson & Lipton, 1999; Pearson, Lipton,

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