Eight evidence based principles for effective offender intervention
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Eight evidence based principles for effective offender intervention



This presentation draws on information provided by “Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Community Corrections: The Principles of Effective Intervention” published by the National Institute of Corrections, Community Corrections Division, U.S. Department of Justice. April 2004.

With additional information provided by “Principles of Effective Offender Intervention” from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Office of Planning, Research, Statistics & Grants. February 2007.

Principles of effective offender intervention what they are
Principles of Effective Offender Intervention –What They Are

  • Findings from hundreds of studies and meta-analyses of criminal justice interventions indicate that good programs - those that reduce recidivism have common features.

  • These common features can be summarized as “Principles of Effective Offender Intervention”.

Clarifying terms
Clarifying Terms Are

  • The terms best practices, what works, and evidence-based practice (EBP) are often used interchangeably. However, subtle distinctions exist between these terms:

  • For example, best practices are often based on the collective experience of the field rather than scientifically tested knowledge, and do not imply attention to outcomes, evidence or measurable standards.

  • What works implies linkage to general outcomes, but does not specify the kind of outcomes desired (e.g. just desserts, deterrence, rehabilitation, etc.).

Clarifying terms continued
Clarifying Terms (continued) Are

  • Evidence-based practice implies the following:

  • There is a definable outcome(s).

  • It is measurable.

  • It is defined according to practical realities (recidivism, victim satisfaction, etc.).

    Consequently, EBP is more appropriate for outcome focused human service disciplines.


  • Assess Actuarial Risk/Needs

  • Enhance Intrinsic Motivation

  • Target Intervention

    • Risk Principle

    • Need Principle

    • Responsivity Principle

    • Dosage

    • Treatment Principle

  • Skill Train with Directed Practice

  • Increase Positive Reinforcement

  • Engage Ongoing Support in Natural Communities

  • Measure Relevant Processes/Practices

  • Provide Measurement Feedback

1 assess actuarial risk needs
1. Assess Actuarial Risk/Needs Are

  • Develop and maintain a complete system of ongoing offender risk screening / triage and needs assessment.

  • Screening and assessment tools that focus on dynamic and static risk factors, profile criminogenic needs, and have been validated on similar populations are preferred.

Why assess
Why Assess? Are

  • Offender treatment programs that conduct thorough, rigorous and objective assessment of offenders and use the assessment information to inform treatment planning decisions have been proven to have much better outcomes than programs that do not engage in such assessment.

  • Assessment maximizes treatment resources (staff, money, time) by targeting them where they will produce the best outcomes, rather than wasting them on offenders who will derive little benefit.

Level of service inventory revised lsi r
Level of Service Inventory--Revised (LSI--R). Are

  • The LSI--R can be thought of as something like a medical triage decision making tool ––it provides insight into which offenders should receive the highest priority for treatment, regardless of their specific problem areas.

  • The 54 items are grouped into ten domains that represent key criminogenic risk factors.

Lsi r domains number of items in each domain in parentheses
LSI--R Domains (number of items in each domain in parentheses)

  • Criminal History (10)

  • Education/Employment (10)

  • Financial (2)

  • Family/Marital (4)

  • Accommodation (3)

  • Leisure/Recreation (2)

  • Companions (5)

  • Alcohol/Drug Problems (9)

  • Emotional/Personal (5)

  • Attitudes/Orientation (4)

2 enhance intrinsic motivation
2. Enhance Intrinsic Motivation parentheses)

  • Staff should relate to offenders in interpersonally sensitive and constructive ways to enhance intrinsic motivation in offenders.

  • Research strongly suggests that motivational interviewing techniques, rather than persuasion tactics, effectively enhance motivation for initiating and maintaining behavior changes.

3 target interventions
3. Target Interventions parentheses)

A. Risk Principle

B. Need Principle

C. Responsivity Principle

D. Dosage

E. Treatment Principle

A risk principle
a) parentheses)Risk Principle

  • Prioritize primary supervision and treatment resources for offenders who are at higher risk to re-offend. Research shows that resources that are focused on low-risk offenders tend to produce little net positive effect on recidivism rates.

  • Research shows that resources that are focused on low-risk offenders tend to produce little net positive effect on recidivism rates.

B criminogenic need principle
b) parentheses)Criminogenic Need Principle

  • Address offenders’ greatest criminogenic needs. These criminogenic needs are dynamic risk factors, that when addressed, affect the offender’s risk for recidivism.

  • Examples of criminogenic needs are: criminal personality; antisocial attitudes; values, and beliefs; low self control; criminal peers; substance abuse; and dysfunctional family.

Criminogenic needs
Criminogenic Needs parentheses)

  • Anti-social attitudes, beliefs, values:

  • Rationalization ––“everybody does it, so what’s the problem”, “I have the right to do what I want”.

  • Minimization ––“nobody got hurt, so it’s OK”, “they got “insurance”.

  • Denial of responsibility ––“I was framed”, “I’ve already been “punished enough”.

  • Criminal thinking ––“I’m too smart to get caught”.

  • Anti-social associates – “well, you see, my buddy knew this guy…”.

  • Low levels of educational/vocational achievement.

  • Poor self-control/self-regulation – “I got frustrated with my PO, so I

    said to hell with it.

  • Substance abuse.

C responsivity principle
c) parentheses)Responsivity Principle

  • There are important interactions between the learning and personality style of the offender and their setting or situation.

  • Therapist’s skills should be matched with appropriate program type.

  • Offender’s strength and limitations should be considered in program plans- for example, an offender with limited literacy may not be appropriate for a program requiring extensive reading or journaling.

D dosage
d) parentheses)Dosage

  • Providing appropriate doses of services, pro-social structure, and supervision is a strategic application of resources.

  • During the initial three to nine months post-release, higher risk offenders require that 40%-70% of their free time be clearly occupied with delineated routine and services (e.g., outpatient treatment, employment assistance, education, etc.).

E treatment principle
e) parentheses)Treatment Principle

  • Treatment, particularly cognitive-based behavioral types, should be applied as an integral part of the sentence/sanction process. Targeted and timely treatment interventions will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the community, the victim, and the offender.

  • Targeted and timely treatment interventions will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the community, the victim, and the offender.

The cognitive behavioral approach
The Cognitive-Behavioral Approach parentheses)

  • Changing thinking is the first step towards changing behavior; offenders behave like criminal because they think like criminals.

  • Effective programs attempt to alter an offender’s cognitions, values, attitudes and expectations that maintain anti-social behavior.

  • Emphasis on problem solving, decision making, reasoning, self-control and behavior modification, through role playing, graduated practice and behavioral rehearsal.

4 skill train with directed practice
4. Skill Train with Directed Practice parentheses)

  • Prioritize, plan, and budget for evidence-based programming that emphasizes cognitive-behavioral strategies and is delivered by well trained staff.

  • Skills are not just taught to the offender, but are practiced or role-played and the resulting pro-social attitudes and behaviors are positively reinforced by staff.

5 increase positive reinforcement
5. Increase Positive Reinforcement parentheses)

  • When learning new skills and making behavioral changes, human beings appear to respond better and maintain learned behaviors for longer periods of time, when approached with carrots rather than sticks.

  • Research indicates that a ratio of four positive to every one negative reinforcement is optimal for promoting behavior changes.

6 engage ongoing support in natural communities
6. Engage Ongoing Support parentheses)in Natural Communities

  • Realign and actively engage pro-social supports for offenders in their communities.

  • Research indicates that many successful interventions with extreme populations (e.g., inner city substance abusers, homeless, etc.) actively recruit and use family members, spouses, and supportive others in the offender’s immediate environment to positively reinforce desired new behaviors.

    [Community Reinforcement Approach]

7 measure relevant processes practices
7. Measure Relevant Processes/Practices parentheses)

  • Accurate and detailed documentation of case information, along with a formal and valid mechanism for measuring outcomes, is the foundation of evidence-based practice. Agencies must routinely evaluate offender recidivism if services are to remain effective.

  • Staff performance should also be regularly addressed.

8 provide measurement feedback
8. Provide Measurement Feedback parentheses)

  • Once a method for measuring relevant processes/practices is in place, the information must be used to monitor process and change. Providing feedback to offenders regarding their progress builds accountability and is associated with enhanced motivation for change and improved outcomes.

  • The agency should also conduct regular performance audits and case reviews with an eye toward improved outcomes.

What doesn t work famous programs based on flawed theories models
What doesn’t work! - Famous programs based on flawed theories/models

  • Scared Straight – deterrence theory; “make them fear prison.”

    • Nearly every study over the past 25 years has found dismal results, many even showing higher recidivism rates for Scared Straight participants. Has been characterized as criminal justice malpractice.

  • Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) – didactic model; “kids don’t know drugs are bad for them.”

    • Most studies have found neutral effects for DARE. More recent versions of DARE, based upon cognitive-behavioral principles, have been more promising

  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s (Maricopa County Jail, Arizona) Tent Cities and Chain Gangs – more deterrence theory; “make them hate prison.”

    • By the jail’s own admission, its recidivism rate exceeds 60 percent.

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