The Availability and Utility of Services to Address Risk Factors for Recidivism Among Justice-Involved Veterans

Published date01 October 2017
Date01 October 2017
Subject MatterArticles for Special Issue
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2017, Vol. 28(8) 790 –813
© The Author(s) 2016
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DOI: 10.1177/0887403416628601
Articles for Special Issue
The Availability and Utility
of Services to Address Risk
Factors for Recidivism Among
Justice-Involved Veterans
Daniel M. Blonigen1,2, Allison L. Rodriguez1,
Luisa Manfredi1, Jessica Britt1,2, Andrea Nevedal1,
Andrea K. Finlay1, Joel Rosenthal3, David Smelson4,5,
and Christine Timko1,6
The availability and utility of services to address recidivism risk factors among justice-
involved veterans is unknown. We explored these issues through qualitative interviews
with 63 Specialists from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Justice
Programs. To guide the interviews, we utilized the risk–need–responsivity (RNR)
model of offender rehabilitation. Specialists reported that justice-involved veterans
generally have access to services to address most RNR-based risk factors (substance
abuse, lack of positive school/work involvement, family/marital dysfunction, lack of
prosocial activities/interests), but have less access to services targeting risk factors of
antisocial tendencies and associates and empirically based treatments for recidivism
in VA. Peer-based services, motivational interviewing/cognitive-behavioral therapy,
and Veterans Treatment Courts were perceived as useful to address multiple risk
factors. These findings highlight potential gaps in provision of evidence-based care to
address recidivism among justice-involved veterans, as well as promising policy-based
solutions that may have widespread impact on reducing recidivism in this population.
1Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Menlo Park, CA, USA
2Palo Alto University, CA, USA
3Veterans Justice Programs, Veterans Health Administration, Menlo Park, CA, USA
4Bedford VA Medical Center, MA, USA
5University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, USA
6Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Daniel M. Blonigen, HSR&D Center for Innovation to Implementation, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health
Care System, 795 Willow Road (152), Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA.
628601CJPXXX10.1177/0887403416628601Criminal Justice Policy ReviewBlonigen et al.
Blonigen et al. 791
justice-involved veterans, recidivism, risk–need–responsivity, empirically based
Justice-involved veterans, defined as those detained by or under the supervision of the
criminal justice system, comprise a nontrivial proportion of the U.S. correctional pop-
ulation. Eight percent of individuals who are incarcerated in federal and state prisons
and city and county jails are veterans of the U.S. military—approximately 181,500
veterans (Bronson, Carson, Noonan, & Berzofsky, 2015). Notably, incarcerated veter-
ans likely represent only a fraction of the total number of justice-involved veterans
nationally, given that approximately 75% of the correctional population in the United
States resides in the community on probation or parole (Glaze, 2011).
Many veterans are caught in a cycle of contact with the criminal justice system. For
example, the majority of incarcerated veterans have at least one prior episode of incar-
ceration (Bronson et al., 2015; Noonan & Mumola, 2007), and in fiscal year 2012,
justice-involved veterans who were in contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs’
(VA) Veterans Justice Programs (VJPs) reported an average of eight prior arrests in
their lifetime (Department of VA, 2012). Consequently, reducing justice-involved vet-
erans’ risk for recidivism is a top priority for a number of national organizations,
including the VA (Blue-Howells, Clark, van den Berk-Clark, & McGuire, 2013), the
Bureau of Justice Statistics (Bronson et al., 2015), and the Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration (Peters, Bartoi, & Sherman, 2008). Nonetheless,
key questions remain regarding the extent to which empirically supported risk factors
for recidivism are routinely addressed in the care of justice-involved veterans, and
whether these veterans have access to empirically based treatments (EBTs) for reduc-
ing recidivism (Blonigen et al., 2014; Timko et al., 2014).
Empirically Supported Principles for Reducing Recidivism Among
Justice-Involved Adults
The empirical literature on offender rehabilitation indicates that successful reintegra-
tion of justice-involved adults into the community, particularly in terms of reducing
risk for recidivism, is maximized through adherence to the principles of the risk–need–
responsivity (RNR) model (Andrews & Bonta, 2010a, 2010b; Andrews & Dowden,
2006; Blanchette & Brown, 2006; Ward, Melser, & Yates, 2007). The risk principle
states that level of service for justice-involved adults should be matched to their level
of risk for reoffending. The need principle states that case management efforts and
intervention targets for justice-involved adults should focus on dynamic (i.e., modifi-
able) risk factors of recidivism (Andrews & Bonta, 2010a, 2010b). The responsivity
principle states that interventions to reduce recidivism should be tailored to the unique

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