Theoretical frameworks that are used to assess and treat the forensic population within the criminal justice system

Theoretical frameworks that are used to assess and treat the forensic population within the criminal justice system

In my previous blog regarding the historical overview of risk assessment tools utilised within the criminal justice system I focused mainly on the assessment tools that are used. In this blog I will be focusing on the theoretical frameworks that have been used to underpin the assessment and treatment process  These theoretical frameworks are the Risk/Need/Responsivity Model and The Good Lives Model (GLM):

When considering the Risk/Need/Responsivity (RNR) model this framework focuses on the identification and management of high-risk situations that could lead offenders experiencing a relapse and engaging in offending behaviour (Ward, Mann & Gannon, 2007.) The risk principal suggest that offenders at higher risk for reoffending will benefit most from higher levels of intervention, including high intensity treatment, and that lower risk offenders should receive minimal, routine, or no intervention. The need principle of treatment proposes that only those factors associated with reductions in recidivism (i.e., criminogenic needs or pro-offending attitudes) should be targeted in intervention. The responsivity principle states that correctional programs should be matched to offender characteristics such as learning style, level of motivation, and the individual's personal and interpersonal circumstances (Andrews & Bonta, 2003).

One of strengths of the Risk/Need/Responsivity (RNR) model is that there has been a large amount of research that has been conducted into the effectiveness of using this model to identify level of risk and treatment pathways. Ward, Melser and Yates (2006) describe how there has been an "impressive" body of meta-analytic research that has been developed on the RNR model. This evidence has largely been derived from meta-analytic examination of rehabilitation evaluation research, beginning with Andrews et al.'s (1990) seminal paper. This paper provides the greatest empirical evidence for the RNR model, was conducted to refute the "nothing works"perspective that had dominated since Martinson's (1974) famous report. Treatment that complied with the RNR principles demonstrated significantly greater effectiveness than criminal sanctions, inappropriate treatment, or unspecified treatment

However, despite their being strong empirical support for the RNR model, it has been subjected to a number of critiques, primarily aimed at its underlying theoretical assumptions, their implications for practice, and lack of scope (e.g., Ward & Brown, 2004). In summary, Ward et al. have argued that a focus on reducing dynamic risk factors is a necessary but not sufficient condition for effective treatment (Ward & Gannon, 2006). A key component of this critique has been the argument that it is necessary to broaden the theoretical formulation, application to practice, and the scope of correctional interventions to take into account the promotion of human goods (or approach goals) in conjunction with the reduction of risk variables (or avoidance goals). Also as Marshall et al (2003) explains the RNR plays inadequate attention to the therapeutic alliance and so called non-criminogenic needs such as personal distress and low self esteem that are important beyond their potential implications with respect to offender responsivity. For example, it has been argued that the creation of a sound therapeutic alliance requires a suite of interventions that are not directly concerned with targeting risk and it has been shown that the establishment of a good therapeutic alliance is a necessary feature of effective therapy with offenders.

In relation to the Good Lives Model (GLM) research has suggested that The GLM is a good motivational model. The GLM is a strengths-based approach to offender rehabilitation, and therefore is premised on the idea that we need to build capabilities and strengths in people, in order to reduce their risk of re-offending (Ward, Mann & Gannon, 2007). The GLM is a framework of offender rehabilitation, which is holistic in nature and has been adopted as a theoretical framework in providing sex offender treatment and case management (Ward & Stewart, 2003). The GLM is grounded in the ethical concept of human dignity and universal human rights, and as such it has a strong emphasis on human agency.  That is, the GLM is concerned with individuals ability to formulate and select goals, construct plans, and to act freely in the implementation of these plans (Andrews, Bonta and Wormith (2011). The assumption with the GLM is that offenders, like all humans, value certain states of mind, personal characteristics, and experiences, which are defined in the GLM as primary goods. In the GLM there are 11 primary goods being life, knowledge, excellence in work, excellence in play, excellence in agency, inner peace, relatedness, community, spirituality, pleasure and creativity. (Ward, Mann & Gannon, 2007)

The GLM has become increasingly popular in sexual offending programs and its use in diverse jurisdictions around the world (McGrath, Cummuning, Burchard, Zeoli and Ellerby (2010). The GLM is a strengths based approach to offender rehabilitation that the risk, need, and responsivity principles of effective correctional intervention is through its focus on assisting clients to develop and implement meaningful life plans that are incompatible with offending. It has been suggested in preliminary research that the GLM can enhance client engagement in treatment and reduce dropouts from programs which is a factor well-known to be associated with higher recidivism rates (Prescott).

The most commonly cited criticism of the GLM is its lack of empirical support (Ogloff & Davis, 2004). According to Andrews, Bonta and Wormith (2011) in relation to the empirical support the GLM pales in comparison to that of the RNR. The studies of the GLM thus far that have been undertaken have been limited to small samples or case studies. There also appears to be some confusion regarding the theoretical principals and framework that underpin the GLM in relation to offence specific intervention. Andrews, Bonta and Wormith (2011) continue to highlight how Ward, Yates and Willis have argued that the GLM includes all of the components of the RNR and more. However, elsewhere they have contended that the GLM is fundamentally different from the RNR, rejecting it as simply operant conditioning in favour of what they implicitly portray as a more human model with its foundations resting ultimately on 11 life goods.


Tanya Jordan is an experienced Forensic Social Worker and an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with T n J's Consulting and Support Services.


Reference List

Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J (2003) The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, 3rd edition Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

Andrews, D. A., Zinger, I., Hoge, R. D., Bonta, J., Gendreau, P., & Cullen, F. T. (1990). Does correctional treatment work? A clinically relevant and psychologically informed meta-analysis. Criminology,  28, 369-404.

Andrews, D. A., Bonta, J., & Wormith S. J (2011) The Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Model: Does Adding the Good Lives Model Contribute to Effective Crime Prevention.

McGrath, R. J., Cumming, G., Burchard, B., Zeoli, S., & Ellerby, L (2010) Current practices and emerging trends in sexual abuser management: The Safer Society 2009 North American survey. Brandon, Vermont: Safer Society Press.

Marshall, W. L., Fernandez, Y. M., Serran, G. A., Mulloy, R., Thornton, D., Mann, R. E., et al. (2003). Process variables in the treatment of sexual offenders. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal, 8, 205-23

Martinson, R. (1974). What works? Questions and answers about prison reform. Public Interest, 35, 22-54

Ogloff, J. R. P., & Davis, N. R. (2004). Advances in offender assessment and rehabilitation: Contributions of the risk-needs responsivity approach. Psychology, Crime & Law, 10, 229-242.

Prescott, D .S. The Good Lives Model (GLM) in Theory and Practice found online 25 July 2017

Ward, T., Melser, J., & Yates, P (2016) Reconstructing the Risk-Need-Responsivity model: A theoretical elaboration and evaluation

Ward, T., & Brown, M., (2004). The good lives model and conceptual issues in offender rehabilitation. Psychology, Crime, and Law, 10, 243−257.

Ward, T., & Gannon, T., (2006). Rehabilitation, etiology, and self-regulation: The Good Lives Model of sexual offender treatment. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 11, 77-94 conceptual issues in offender rehabilitation. Psychology, Crime, and Law, 10, 243-257

Ward, T., Mann, R. E., & Gannon, T. A (2007) The Good Lives Model of Offender Rehabilitation: Clinical Implications. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 12, 87-107

Ward, T., & Stewart, C. A. (2003) The Treatment of Sex Offenders: Risk Management and Good Lives. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34, 353-360.