|RNR Principles in Practice In the Management and Treatment of Sexual Abusers|
|Review by David S. Prescott, LICSW|
By Sandy Jung, Phd,
Safer Society Press,
174 pages, $30.00
David S. Prescott, LICSW
Forum Book Review Editor
Who knew that three simple principles could be so difficult
to understand and implement? They exist at the center of roughly four decades
of research and practice around the world. In brief, the risk principle holds that the most intensive interventions should
be reserved for those who pose the highest risk for re-offense. The need principle holds that interventions
should target those treatment needs associated through research with re-offense
risk. The responsivity principle
holds that interventions should be provided in accordance with the individual
characteristics of each treatment participant.
As Jung quickly points out in the first pages, it can be
easy to look backwards at the principles and the research that supports them, and
conclude that they are inherently obvious while wondering why anyone would have
ever thought differently. She then lays out an excellent case for why this sort
of retrospective bias would be wrong. Starting with the tragically misguided
conclusions of Martinson (1974), Jung walks the reader through the origins of
what is now known simply as “RNR”.
Why is this important? From an empirical perspective, it is
vital, since Hanson, Bourgon, Helmus, & Hodgins (2009) found that these
principles apply as much to people who have sexually abused as to any other
person who comes into contact with the criminal justice system. It is equally
vital from a practical standpoint when one considers how difficult these
principles can actually be to understand and implement. Consider the furor in the
wake of Hanson and Bussiere’s (1998) meta-analysis finding that denying one’s
offense is not a risk factor on its own. Much debate ensued (e.g., Lund, 2000),
with many coming to conclude that denial should likely be considered a
responsivity factor. Indeed, Jill Levenson and the author conducted three
consumer satisfaction studies in which the belief of treatment participants was
clear: being accountable for one’s actions was the most important part of
treatment (Levenson & Prescott, 2009; Levenson, Prescott, & D’Amora,
2010; Levenson, Prescott, & Jumper, 2014). Similarly, consider the plight
of self-esteem in treatment. Scant research shows it to be a risk factor, and
yet it can be vital to meaningful engagement in treatment.
Jung’s is among the first books to take on the RNR
principles and their place in treatment specifically with people who sexually
abuse (Looman and Abracen’s 2016 book also addressed RNR, although theirs was
focused exclusively on treating those who pose the highest risk). Compared to
other writings in this area, it is presented with refreshing clarity and
elegance. This is particularly welcome, as many readers have – frankly –
criticized the original books by Don Andrews and Jim Bonta as being difficult
to read. It has often seemed that while most professionals want to have read
authoritative works about RNR, few actually want to go through the process of
reading them. With this effort, Sandy Jung has made these principles
significantly accessible. When reflecting on their earlier efforts, it is
equally clear that Safer Society has “upped their game” in terms of production
The chapters each come with examples, bullet points of
important concepts, and summaries of key points. Readers should not be fooled
by the simple language: Jung has distilled this material only after years of
study and work with these principles. After an abridged history of RNR, Jung
discusses what the principles are and are not. She next reviews why they are
important to consider, how they contribute to overall program efficiency, how
programs can maintain adherence to them, and why a book on them is necessary in
the first place.
Jung next takes each principle in its turn, from risk
assessment to distinguishing between general and specific responsivity and key
factors to consider in all three principles. These chapters will be helpful to
novices and more seasoned readers alike. A chapter of case illustrations
follows, followed by an exploration of implementation challenges; as pristine
as the principles can appear in print, they still require fallible humans to
put into practice. To this end, Jung’s efforts reflect very considerable
The production, clarity, and importance of the topic make
this a welcome and necessary addition to our field’s knowledge and practice. While
Sandy has publicly commented on the amount of work involved in producing a
volume of this sort, the field owes her a debt of gratitude. Here’s hoping that
we hear from her again soon.
Hanson, R.K., & Bussiere, M.T. (1998).
Predicting relapse: A meta-analysis of sexual offender recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical
Psychology, 66, 348-362.
Hanson, R.K., Bourgon, G. Helmus, L., & Hodgson, S. (2009).
The principles of effective correctional treatment also apply to sexual
offenders: A meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36, 865-891.
Levenson, J.S., &
Prescott, D.S. (2009). Treatment experiences of civilly committed sex
offenders: A consumer satisfaction survey. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of
Research and Treatment, 21, 6-20.
Prescott, D.S., & D’Amora, D.A. (2010). Sex offender treatment: Consumer
satisfaction and engagement in therapy. International Journal of Offender
Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 54, 307-326.
Levenson, J.S., Prescott,
D.S., & Jumper, S. (2014). A consumer satisfaction survey of civilly
committed sex offenders in Illinois.
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 58,