Responsivity Reconsidered

The below quotes came from “The Legal Pad” Volume 3, Issue 9, (September 1, 2019) published by Cyrus P. Gladden, II from the gulag in Mooselake, Minnesota.  All quotes came from Guy Bourgon, James Bonta, & Public Safety Canada, “Reconsidering the responsivity principle: A Way To Move Forward,” 78 (2) Federal Probation 3 (Sept 2014).


The following short excerpt points out: (1) Problems with the concept of “responsivity” (which originally referred to responsivity of the treatment program to the specific needs of each client, but now has curiously shifted to responsivity — typically claimed lack of responsivity — of the client to standardized treatment modalities of a given program; and (2) Difficulty in devising research protocols that can isolate and study effects of “responsivity” as originally meant.


An even larger difficulty concerns so-called dynamic factors altogether, which, as the table below shows, almost always intermingles static factors with those which are supposed to be purely dynamic.  A previous article has already pointed out the mostly unproven status of nearly all commonly cited dynamic factors.


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]In the Andrews, Bonta and Hoge paper, four principles were presented with respect to offender treatment. The first three principles dealt with the who, what, and how of offender rehabilitation. The risk principle stated that the intensity of treatment should be matched to the risk level of the offender, with the greatest amount of treatment services being directed to the higher-risk offender. The need principle dictated that treatment goals should be the criminogenic needs that are functionally related to criminal behavior. The responsivity principle directed service providers to use cognitive-behavioral techniques to bring about change while being attentive to individual factors such as personality, gender, and motivation. The fourth principle was the override principle, which called for professional discretion in cases where behavior could not be explained with existing knowledge.  Since 1990 the RNR model has expanded to include many more principles (Andrews & Bonta, 2010a; 2010b), but the principles of risk, need, and responsivity remain at the core.  Most of the research has focused on the risk and need principles, while the research on the responsivity principle has been a poor cousin.  There are many reasons for this situation, two of which are the ease of conducting research on risk and need compared to responsivity and the vagueness of the original conceptualization of responsivity by Andrews, Bonta, and Hoge (1990).[/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][W]e review [here] how the responsivity principle has come to mean simply a consideration of client characteristics
in the absence of the environment where the work takes place, such as therapist/helper characteristics and skills.[/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][…A]n assessment of dynamic risk factors, particularly those dynamic factors that Andrews and Bonta (2010a) refer to as part of the Central Eight risk/need factors (Table 1), is crucial for effective rehabilitation programming.[/perfectpullquote]

For the confined, 6 of these 8 factors are purely or nearly purely static in nature, given that little of nothing in confinement allows one to better them. Only Items 3 and 4 apply to current matters and are therefor dynamic.


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Different treatment models may also use different explanatory mechanisms and terminology. For example, Marlatt’s Relapse Prevention Framework (1985) and its variations uses the concepts of “triggers,” “high risk situations.” and “outcome expectancies,” Beck (1979) talks of “cognitive distortions” and “automatic thoughts,” and Yochelson and Samenow (1977) use the language of “thinking errors.”[/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Many if not all cognitive-behavioral interventions have labels to assist clients identifying problematic versus non-problematic thinking. They may be referred to as “thinking errors,” “cognitive distortions,” or “neutralizations” or many other terms, each with similar but not identical definitions and/or underlying meaning for behavior.   [/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][…T]he research support surrounding specific responsivity pales in comparison. [to risk/needs research]. … A problem with responsivity research has been its focus on client attributes that are believed to impact rehabilitation efforts rather than on the characteristics and actions of therapists.[/perfectpullquote]


TABLE 1 Number of Offenders in the Re-arrest During Supervision Statistics by Month

  1. Criminal History [purely static]
  2. Antisocial Personality Pattern (early onset of antisocial behavior, procriminal attitudes, previous failure on parole/probation, history of violent behavior) [purely static]
  3. Procriminal Attitudes [dynamic]
  4. Procriminal Companions [dynamic]
  5. Family/Marital (generalized family dysfunction, marital strife) [purely static]
  6. Education/Employment (level of education, unemployed, conflict at work) [purely static]
  7. Substance Abuse (alcohol and drugs) [nearly purely static]
  8. Leisure/recreation (lack of prosocial activities) [nearly purely static]

Notable References:

  • Andrews, D. A., Bonta, J., & Hoge, R .D. (1990). Classification for effective rehabilitation: Rediscovering psychology. Criminal Justice  and Behavior, 17, 19-52.
  • Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2010a). The psychology of criminal conduct (5th ed.). Newark, NJ: LexisNexis/Matthew Bender.
  • Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2010b). Rehabilitating criminal justice policy and practice. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 16, 39-55.
  • Marlatt, G. A. (1985). Relapse prevention: Theoretical rationale and overview of the model. Relapse Prevention, 3-70.
  • Yochelson, S., & Samenow, S. E. (1977). The criminal personality, Vol. II: The change  process. New York, NY: Jason Aronson.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *