What does effective treatment look like? Breaking down the Risk-Need-Responsivity Model

Risk-Need-Responsivity model diagram

Drug courts are redefining how we approach the opioid epidemic, by putting it in context of a health issue, rather than a crime one. Because of this, we are able to see more people get clean and move on with their lives. We have already explored the effectiveness of drug courts, but what should treatment look like once they get there?

Over the past couple of decades there has been a decent amount of research focused on correctional rehabilitation. Together, the risk principle (i.e., “who” to target); the need principle (i.e., “what” to target); and the treatment principle (i.e., “how” to target) constitute the Risk-Need-Responsivity model, a commonly used model in the field of criminology that outlines effective correctional intervention.

The Risk Principle simply says that the level of supervision and treatment should vary by the offender’s level of risk and probability of failure, with higher risk offenders receiving more intense services than lower risk offenders. It is important to note that providing intensive treatment and intervention to low risk offenders could actually increase recidivism rates! 

The Need Principle requires some understanding of the “risk factors” correlated with criminal conduct. These can include personality patterns (weak socialization, impulsivity, weak problem-solving); family factors (neglect, abuse); substance abuse, and more. All of the risk factors fit into two categories: those which cannot be changed (i.e. biological factors), and those which can be changed.

As you can probably guess, the focus of treatment should be on those factors that can be changed. In fact, studies have shown that assessing these risk factors in an offender, and then targeting them for change, can substantially reduce the probability of recidivism. Furthermore, targeting multiple dynamic risk factors at a time produces an even greater reduction in recidivism.

The Treatment Principle is based on research that has shown that the most effective interventions for offenders are those which are behavioral in nature. This means staff modeling prosocial behaviors for offenders; effective reinforcement and effective disapproval; effective use of authority, quality interpersonal relationships, cognitive restructuring, structured learning/skill building, and focusing on teaching problem-solving techniques.

We currently have the opportunity to assess how we choose to respond to addiction in Ohio. In order to create the most effective response that will promote the health and safety for members of our community there should also be a strong focus on prioritizing appropriate treatment and close supervision of eligible offenders by trained and educated, multidisciplinary, and non-adversarial staff members and officers.

Next week, we will be exploring alternative pain treatments. To follow our new research and research of our local media partners, sign up for our weekly news roundup