ATSA Forum - Vol. XXIX, No. 4
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 values.
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 experience.
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.
Levenson, J.S., 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, 474-495.