Evaluating the responsivity principle in prison-based programs for sexual offending behavior

Publication Date07 Aug 2017
AuthorDeirdre M. D’Orazio
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
Evaluating the responsivity principle
in prison-based programs for sexual
offending behavior
Deirdre M. DOrazio
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the degree to which a US prison-based sexual offender
treatment program adheres to the best practice responsivity principle and to shed light on why prison-based
programs tend to have worse recidivism outcomes than community programs. Results will facilitate program
development efforts as they transition from programming developed prior to the risk-needs-responsivity
knowledge about what works in treatment.
Design/methodology/approach A mix of qualitative and quantitative methods assessed treatment
methods, therapeutic climate, group therapy environment, therapist style, and staff and participantsperceptions.
Findings Overall, the analyses revealed insufficient adherence to the responsivity principle. The program
used methods known to be effective with sexual offenders, but with deficient implementation. In group
therapy sessions, therapeutic style deficiencies were demonstrated for stimulating growth, nurturance, and
direction and control. Treatment program advancement was associated with group environment declines in
cohesion, leader support, expressiveness, independence, and task orientation.
Originality/value Results suggest that improved treatment response can be achieved by modifying
methods and style to foster participant internal control, eliminate unnecessary external control and fear-
based compliance, maximize participant autonomy; implement strengths-based approaches and fewer
deficit-based interventions; monitor and minimize participant shame, and create a transparent and consistent
program milieu, with clear communication, individualization, and adequate resources. Study limitations
include a lack of recidivism outcomes; that it is a single prison sample, excludes female and juvenile offenders,
and lacks a community-based control group. Nonetheless, despite inherent responsivity vulnerabilities
compared to community-based programs, this study indicates several ways that program developers can
enhance adherence to the responsivity principle in institutional-based programs.
Keywords Programmeevaluation, Strengths-based approaches, Sex offenders, Group environment scale,
Risk-needs-responsivity, Treatment efficacy, Responsivity principle
Paper type Research paper
Despite the proliferation of laws punishing sexual offending and the concomitant increase in
sexual offender treatment programs in the 1990s (DOrazio, 2013), the field of sexual offender
treatment could not provide compelling evidence that it reduces recidivism until the early years of
the twenty-first century (Hanson et al., 2009; Lösel and Schmucker, 2005; MacKenzie, 2006;
Schmucker and Lösel, 2015). The gold standard early sexual offender treatment study was the
California Sexual Offender Treatment and Evaluation Project (SOTEP, Marques et al., 2000).
This randomly controlled trial that tracked sexual offenders for an average of eight years
could not demonstrate that relapse prevention treatment reduces recidivism. However,
post hoc analyses provided an important revelation that the programs failure to attend to the
risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) principles (Andrews et al., 1990; Andrews and Bonta, 2006,
2010; Bonta and Andrews, 2007), and specifically participant to response to treatment,
undermined its success (Marques et al., 2005).
Received 9 December 2016
Revised 19 February 2017
20 March 2017
11 May 2017
Accepted 15 May 2017
Deirdre M. DOrazio is a
Forensic Psychologist at
Central Coast Clinical and
Forensic Psychology Services,
Atascadero, California, USA.
DOI 10.1108/JCP-12-2016-0045 VOL. 7 NO. 3 2017, pp. 193-205, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829
PAG E 19 3

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