Operationalizing Risk, Need, and Responsivity Principles in Local Policy: Lessons From Five County Juvenile Probation Departments

AuthorCarrie Maloney,Joel Miller
Published date01 January 2020
Date01 January 2020
Subject MatterArticles
The Prison Journal
2020, Vol. 100(1) 49 –73
© 2019 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0032885519882312
Operationalizing Risk,
Need, and Responsivity
Principles in Local
Policy: Lessons From
Five County Juvenile
Probation Departments
Joel Miller1 and Carrie Maloney2
We examined the operationalization of risk, need, and responsivity
principles (RNRP) in local policy in five Pennsylvania county juvenile
probation departments. “Core” policies focused on officers’ assessment;
decision-making about client services and supervision; engagement with
system stakeholders; and intervention with clients. “Supporting” policies
focused on competency development; management and supervision; and
performance measurement. Policy variations highlighted innovations and
dilemmas in operationalizing RNRP. Dilemmas included the extent to
which officers are cast as change agents; how needs are prioritized; how
risk and needs are tied to decisions; and how officers advocate about
assessment results with system stakeholders.
juvenile justice, probation, YLS/CMI, policy, risk–need–responsivity model
Funding: This project was supported by Award No. 2015-R2-CX-0015, awarded by the
National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The
opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are
those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.
1Rutgers University–Newark, NJ, USA
2East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, USA
Corresponding Author:
Joel Miller, School of Criminal Justice, Center for Law & Justice, Rutgers University–Newark,
123 Washington Street, Suite 549, Newark, NJ 07102, USA.
Email: joelmi@rutgers.edu
882312TPJXXX10.1177/0032885519882312The Prison JournalMiller and Maloney
50 The Prison Journal 100(1)
Risk, need, and responsivity principles (RNRP) are fundamental to evidence-
based community correctional practice (Andrews, Bonta, & Wormith, 2011).
Unlike some “manualized” evidence-based programs (e.g., Henggeler,
Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 2009; Robinson &
Porporino, 2003), however, they offer no rigid protocols for practitioners to
follow when implementing them locally, even though there are some helpful
guidelines (Guevara et al., 2011; Vincent, Guy, & Grisso, 2012). This means
that while local policy-makers can adapt the RNRP to local institutional con-
texts, there is a risk of jurisdictions “reinventing the wheel” or making policy
choices inconsistent with evidence or best practice. Research that increases
the field’s knowledge of protocols for operationalizing RNRP in local con-
texts is therefore of value.
Against this backdrop, this article presents case study research that high-
lights examples and dilemmas relevant to administrators seeking to develop
RNRP policies in local contexts. Specifically, it examines probation policies
in five local Pennsylvania county juvenile probation departments, participat-
ing in a state-wide juvenile justice reform program involving the implemen-
tation of the Youth Level of Service/Case-Management Inventory (YLS/
CMI) risk/needs assessment tool.
RNRP and Juvenile Probation Policy
The Elements of RNRP
The risk principle indicates that the intensity of service should be matched
to the offender’s risk. The need principle indicates that interventions
should target the specific needs of an offender that lead to criminal behav-
ior. And the responsivity principle affirms the superiority of cognitive and
social learning interventions (“general responsivity”) and asserts that
interventions should be tailored to the characteristics of offenders (“spe-
cific responsivity”), for example, their strengths, motivation, learning
ability, and demographic characteristics (Andrews et al., 2011; Andrews &
Dowden, 2006; Andrews et al., 1990; Dowden & Andrews, 2004). These
principles have their roots in a variety of evaluation studies and meta-
analyses that demonstrate reduced recidivism rates for interventions that
follow these principles (Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990; Andrews et al.,
1990; Dowden & Andrews, 1999; Lowenkamp, Latessa, & Holsinger
The successful application of RNRP relies on practitioners’ use of struc-
tured “risk/need assessment (RNA) tools” that use validated criteria, in place

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT