The Criminal Justice System is flawed in certain areas, creating challenges for certain offenders. Therefore, the risk-needs-responsivity model was created in order to guide assessments and treatments of the incarcerated and aid the offender towards rehabilitation upon release. One area the criminal justice system lacks good practice, is gender responsive treatment regarding female offenders. Thus creating challenges for these offenders. This essay will outline the model along with the certain challenges female offenders face, and possible practices that could be incorporated to best combat these challenges.
The Risk-Needs-Responsivity model (RNR model) is used as a guided assessment and treatment program, using three principles; Risk, Need, and Responsivity.
The risk principle combines two different approaches; prediction and matching. An assessment and prediction of each individuals level of risk of reoffending, is crucial to classify and provide appropriate intervention to all. After the assessment and prediction, the level of risk is matched to the appropriate degree of intensity of intervention. The prediction of criminality involves the identification of both static and dynamic risk factors (Olgoff & Davis, 2004). Whereby static risk factors are usually historical markers that cannot be changed, and dynamic risk factors are generally changeable, such as employment, education, accommodation etc. however, both factors maintain predictive validity (Gendreau et al., 1996). The matching approach within the risk principle allows for the provision of treatment services to correspond with the correct individualised level of risk for reoffending (Simourd & Hoge, 2000).
The needs principle explains the idea that the reduction of recidivism directly relates to treatment that focusses on the criminogenic needs of the specific offender (Olgoff & Davis, 2004). Criminogenic needs are a fragment of dynamic risk factors, relating directly to the risk of reoffending. They are characteristics that have originated as a product of social learning theory, therefore can be modified and changed. The changes made regarding the risk factor correlates with the change in the risk of reoffending (Simourd & Hoge, 2000).
The responsivity principle analyses any factors that may have an influence on the response an individual may have to interventions. This usually incorporates two different factors; internal and external factors. Internal being intellectual functioning, self-esteem, and motivation level. External factors include, staff characteristics, therapeutic relationships, environmental support, program content and delivery. The responsivity principle predominately concentrates on internal factors that directly relate to offending behaviours (Olgoff & Davis, 2004). This model aims to provide interventions whereby all offenders receive the most benefit (Andrews et al., 1990).
In order to simplify the model even further, answering three questions can allow the completion of the model in any case, following the model principles respectively; Who to target? What to target? How to target? This model provides a comprehensive, empirically-based approach to offender assessment and rehabilitation (Bonta & Andrews, 2006).
The RNR model aims to rehabilitate offenders, based on research it has been shown that the success of this model will produce ongoing developments (Bonta & Andrews, 2006). 20 years of research and trials have influenced the great progress in the ability to reliably differentiate offenders in regards to risk, whilst assisting offenders socially post release. The developments made have been influenced greatly by the structure of the risk-need-responsivity model (Bonta & Andrews, 2006). Whilst other approaches contributed to risk assessment and treatment, these other models allow for planning effective intervention. This is where the RNR model becomes more influential. It has advanced the development of offender risk instruments, that predict as effectively as the atheoretical, actuarial instruments, however it also provides information that is frequently used in offender treatment (Campbell et al., 2007).
The risk-needs-responsivity model integrates theory, practice and research in the field of offender assessment and rehabilitation. There has been great success in this area whereby the rehabilitation-punishment / retribution pendulum has been held in the rehabilitation side much more firmly than expected over a 20 year time period. However, like all other models the RNR model is constantly being evaluated, and refined (Olgoff & Davis, 2004).
In order to understand the female offender and the challenges that she may face within our justice system, the societal construct of women and the previous experiences female offenders have encountered are considered (Stathopoulos, 2014). Within our culture, women being violent and sexual offenders challenge the beliefs we have that women are nurturing and protecting of others specifically of children. Based on research from 2011-12, the ratio of male offenders to female offenders was approximately 4:1 (Aicgovau, 2015). Overall the statistics show that although females offend at a significantly lower rate, the offender trends are similar. The background of female offenders has been studied to understand where the violent nature begins; it was found that the pathways to females offending stems from abuse and neglect as youths, disturbed attachment, mental health concerns, prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse, and low social and psychological resources (Stathopoulos, 2014). Adverse background experiences like those stated above have been shown to lead to violent crimes, such as physical abuse and sexually violent offences. Relatively small numbers of women are imprisoned across Australia, therefore unsuitable conditions are almost always apparent (Stathopoulos, 2014).
In Australian prisons, female inmates were interviewed and explained their main struggles include drugs and medical treatment, work, education, parenting, humiliation/degrading, and abuse or assaults (Easteal, 2001). Drugs are in abundance in prisons, women who have never tried an illegal substance can leave prison with an addiction. A lack of sufficient medical treatment also adds complications to the lively hood of not only the substance addicted, but the abused, and the ill (Howe,1998, p. 290). There is limited work if any offered to inmates in prisons, therefore the opportunity to build skills that can be used on the outside is few and far between. Education is very similar to work, there are little programs offered and very limited spots available in each program, therefore it is very difficult for an inmate to improve their level of education upon release (Easteal, 2001). Parenting can become difficult once incarcerated, whereby children must visit and may not be able to see there mother for months, or may not be able to cope with the environment (Farrell, 1998, p. 103). As well as a lack of parenting education to aid inmates in learning new parenting skills (Easteal, 2001). The policies and procedures of prison life can make inmates feel humiliated and degraded, i.e. strip searches (George, 1995, p. 62). In addition to these challenges, the first unspoken rule of prisons is ‘don’t talk’, breaking this unspoken rule can lead to physical and verbal abuse (Easteal, 2001). Many of these challenges can be targeted and improved by the RNR model.
Each individual challenge a female offender faces in the criminal justice system must be handled differently, however; in regards to all issues it is crucial we begin to be proactive in preventing situations before they arise. This includes crime prevention strategies as well as rehabilitation services once incarcerated. Introducing a gender specific substance abuse program will aid in helping women recover whilst incarcerated and upon release. The ‘Helping Women Recover: A Program for Treating Substance Abuse’ program is a unique and gender responsive program that is made for correctional settings within the United States, a similar program could be beneficial to the female incarcerated offenders in Australia (Covington, 1999). The creation of services and treatments that address the practical needs of women upon release, i.e. housing, transportation, child care and vocational training, along with the inclusion of development of skills including education opportunities. Whilst also emphasising parenting education, child development, and relationship/reunification with children for the women this applies. To aid this practice; an environment where inmates can interact with their children safely (Bloom ; Steinhart, 1993) will encourage the motivation to rehabilitate themselves. Another area that must improve is the staffing, in order for the women to feel adequate, the staff must reflect the inmates in regards to race, sexual orientation, language, and status; this also provides a role model for the inmates to be mentored by, whilst allowing the Criminal Justice System to be culturally aware, sensitive, and gender responsive (Covington, 2015).
The principles and ideas explained above, can be used to develop a gender responsive program for women in the Criminal Justice System. However, continuing to act proactively in crime prevention strategies rather than reactively rehabilitating can aid in the process of the RNR model (Covington, 2015).
The Risk- Needs- Responsivity model is used to understand and apply the appropriate rehabilitation treatment program to those incarcerated. The women in the Criminal Justice system face many challenges, however practices such as: gender responsive drug programs, education opportunities, policies and procedures employed following the guided RNR model can best aid the rehabilitation of female offenders in the criminal justice system.