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Federal Probation Journal - September 2014

Federal Probation Journal (September 2014) is dedicated to informing its readers about current thought, research, and practice in corrections and criminal justice. Explore the issue.

This Issue in Brief

This September’s issue of Federal Probation contains a special section on “The Responsivity Principle in Community Corrections.” Responsivity, third in the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model of offender assessment and rehabilitation, has been less researched, less well understood, and therefore less widely or well implemented in the community corrections arena, where the past few decades have seen increasing efforts at most levels of community corrections to find or develop reliable dynamic risk assessment tools and evidence-based treatment and supervision methods.

Bookending this special focus section are two articles by authors well recognized as leaders in RNR research who first summarize what responsivity has meant and means and then suggest fruitful new ways to think about and apply it. In their opening article, “Reconsidering the Responsivity Principle: A Way to Move Forward,” Guy Bourgon and James Bonta emphasize that “Although client attributes provide context, responsivity is…creating an optimal learning environment for the client,” which necessarily involves considerations of both client attributes and those of clinicians as well. The concluding article by Faye Taxman on “Second Generation of RNR: Expanding Emphasis on Responsivity,” presents a (realizable) vision of an “overarching (correctional and treatment) system [that] needs to embrace these principles to support individual-level programming.”

In between these are three articles concerning more localized or specific aspects of Responsivity. In “The Neglected “R”— Responsivity and the Federal Offender,” Thomas H. Cohen and Jay Whetzel use data on federal offenders to discuss the relationship between federal offender demographics and responsivity, the extent to which the presence of responsivity factors varies across the federal judicial districts, and implications for possible use of Second Chance Act funds. Risdon N. Slate and Laura Usher consider opportunities to better address physical and mental health responsivity issues in “Health Coverage for People in the Justice System: The Potential Impact of Obamacare.” And Ada Melton, Kimberly Cobb, Adrienne Lindsey, R. Brian Colgan, and David Melton consider what we know and don’t know (and how we might come to know more) in “Addressing Responsivity Issues with Criminal Justice-Involved Native Americans.”

In years to come we can expect to see much more on this topic both as it applies to community corrections in general and to federal corrections in particular. Meanwhile, we think this Special Focus section offers a solid understanding of where the Responsivity Principle comes from and how it is currently understood to operate, while sketching promising avenues for research and practice in the future—all in pursuit of the best possible outcomes for communities and the offenders who return to them.

Ellen Wilson Fielding
Editor, Federal Probation


SPECIAL FOCUS ON: The Responsivity Principle in Community Corrections

Reconsidering the Responsivity Principle: A Way to Move Forward

By Guy Bourgon, James Bonta

The authors summarize the impact of the Risk-Need-Responsivity model on correctional practice, trace its history (with special emphasis on the responsivity principle), review 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, and then discuss how to forward a constructive research agenda on the responsivity principle.

The Neglected “R”—Responsivity and the Federal Offender

By Thomas H. Cohen, Jay Whetzel

The authors address some of the knowledge gaps in the presence and types of responsivity factors for federal offenders under community supervision, focusing on their frequency and the forms they take. They also examine the distribution of responsivity factors by risk and supervision levels, the relationship between federal offender demographics and responsivity, the extent to which the presence of responsivity factors varies across the federal judicial districts, and implications for possible use of Second Chance Act funds.

Health Coverage for People in the Justice System: The Potential Impact of Obamacare

By Risdon N. Slate, Laura Usher

The authors examine the potential of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to assist criminal justice agencies in helping uninsured individuals involved in the justice system to enroll in health care, with special attention to people living with mental illnesses, a responsivity factor that can present particularly difficult supervision issues.

Addressing Responsivity Issues with Criminal Justice-Involved Native Americans

By Ada Melton, Kimberly Cobb, Adrienne Lindsey, R. Brian Colgan, David J. Melton

The authors focus on how probation and parole officers are ensuring that they address responsivity factors of Native American (NA) youth or adults on their caseloads throughout the supervision process. Since there are few NA-specific studies on responsivity, the authors discuss what is needed to expand knowledge in this area along with selected findings from a survey of probation and parole officers conducted by the American Probation & Parole Association (APPA) and the American Indian Development Associates, LLC (AIDA).

Second Generation of RNR: The Importance of Systemic Responsivity in Expanding Core Principles of Responsivity

By Faye S. Taxman

From the many unanswered questions about responsivity, the author selects these two to focus on: 1) What decision criteria should be used to further integrate risk and need principles into practice? and 2) What type of programs should be in place to meet the risk-need profiles of offenders? Answers should advance the practice of responsivity, which in turn should increase the receptivity of offenders to programming, since responsivity requires programs to address individual crime-producing behaviors.


Does the Risk of Recidivism for Supervised Offenders Improve Over Time? Examining Changes in the Dynamic Risk Characteristics for Offenders under Federal Supervision

By Thomas H. Cohen, Scott W. VanBenschoten

In order to assess how federal offenders fare during their supervision term, the authors tracked a population of 21,152 offenders placed on federal supervision from May 2010 through October 2013. The study found that many offenders initially classified at the highest risk levels moved to a lower risk category by their second assessment and that these changes were mostly driven by improvements in offenders’ employment and substance abuse-related dynamic factors.

Is Project HOPE Creating a False Sense of Hope? A Case Study in Correctional Popularity

By Stephanie A. Duriez, Francis T. Cullen, Sarah M. Manchak

Project HOPE uses certain but non-severe graduated sanctions to specifically deter probationers from violating supervision conditions, especially drug use. The authors explore the sources of HOPE’s “correctional popularity” and argue that several uncertainties may potentially compromise its effectiveness in other jurisdictions. They caution that correctional popularity risks exacting a high cost when promising, if not unproven, programs are adopted rather than alternative evidence-based strategies.

Response to Duriez, Cullen, and Manchak: Theory and Evidence on the Swift-Certain-Fair Approach to Enforcing Conditions of Community Supervision

By Mark A. R. Kleiman, Beau Kilmer, Daniel T. Fisher

The authors respond to Duriez et al.’s caveats about Project HOPE by arguing that swift-certain-fair (SCF) sanctioning improves on conventional practice in enforcing the conditions for community corrections both by substituting swiftness and certainty for severity and by increasing the predictability, and thus the perceived fairness, of the process from the offender’s viewpoint. SCF has both firm theoretical grounding and a growing body of empirical support, making it a useful complement or substitute for expensive and laborious formal risk-needs assessments.

Before Adopting Project Hope, Read the Warning Label: A Rejoinder to Kleiman, Kilmer, and Fisher’s Comment

By Francis T. Cullen, Sarah M. Manchak, Stephanie A. Duriez

The authors of the Duriez et al.’s critique of incautious adoption of Project HOPE-style community supervision conclude this exchange by offering five warnings regarding its as-yet unproven record, identifiable weaknesses, and likely negative outcomes for offenders and community supervision agencies.

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