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There are a number of themes in corrections that are being variously embraced by some Western jurisdictions. These themes relate to both the micro level delivery of specific programs and macro level, system-wide approaches to offender risk management, treatment, and rehabilitation. This chapter describes important features of post-release service delivery.

There are three levels at which the delivery of post-release and throughcare services can be considered (see Figure 2): the correctional ethos that informs reintegration policy; the implementation of the policy into system-wide services; and the interventions that are delivered within that service. Each of these levels is discussed below.

Figure 2: The three levels of post-release service implementation

The three levels of post-release service implementation

Fundamental Correctional Ethos

The philosophical position that informs the definition of client, of outcome, and of the timeframe that constitutes post-release can be variously classified. One such classification is based around various correctional stakeholders:

  • offender-oriented: the traditional adversarial approach, in which interventions are aimed at changes in individual offenders' behaviour (regardless of whether via deterrence or rehabilitation), disregarding broader social context.
  • victim-oriented: in which victims' input and wellbeing are central to criminal justice responses. Victims are viewed as primary clients of the criminal justice system (see Clear and Cadora 2002), in part because they often share a community - and sometimes a home - with offenders. This position is strongly articulated by Lehman, Beatty, Maloney, Russell, Seymour and Shapiro (2002), who place the direct support of victims as fundamental. Victim involvement is increasingly a feature of criminal justice systems in many jurisdictions. It can include the notification of victims of key justice milestones for offenders, victim input into justice decisions about offenders, assisting offenders to understand their impacts on victims, and ensuring victim (ie community) safety.9 A key component of a victim centred approach is encouraging offender accountability and responsibility (see below; see also Michaud 2003).
  • community-oriented: where offender reintegration is considered in the context of his or her environment of return, with capacity building for both offender and their community as fundamentally important. This is exemplified in the community justice approach espoused by Clear and his colleagues (eg Clear and Karp 2000; discussed below).

These orientations are not diametrically opposed, and system-wide justice responses can draw on elements of each. There are other key concepts that this categorisation does not explicitly capture because these concepts can feature in each orientation. Important concepts include:

Therapeutic jurisprudence: or the notion that the law is a social force and can increase (or decrease) wellbeing. Whilst a therapeutic role is not primary to the law, this approach acknowledges that the law can act to encourage pro-social living by offenders from the point at which they first contact the justice system. This process involves balancing community safety with individual autonomy, and can draw on insights from psychiatry and psychology. An example of therapeutic jurisprudence would be court-mandated offender participation in a cognitive restructuring program (see Birgden 2002; Wexler 2002).

Personal responsibility/accountability: A purely humanitarian approach to rehabilitation can be construed as a process performed upon, but not actively involving, offenders. By returning rehabilitative responsibility to offenders, offenders are required to work hard to regain their place in society (Lawrence, Mears, Dubin and Travis 2002). In its most extreme form, rehabilitative responsibility is vested entirely in offenders, who receive only the most basic support from corrections (after Horn 1999, cited in Austin 2001). This is very different to a rehabilitative agenda that aims only to improve the quality of life of offenders, and is therefore possibly more palatable to the general public. In practice, it would involve:

  • offender admission of guilt, and repaying both victims and communities for damage
  • the development of, and the monitoring of compliance to, offender accountability plans (see Lehman, Beatty, Maloney, Russell, Seymour and Shapiro 2002)
  • placing the primary responsibility for addressing re-entry challenges in the offender, although providing adequate supports for them to do so (Field 1998), and
  • victim participation at key criminal justice points (such as sentencing), in restorative justice, and/or through victim organisations (Herman and Wasserman 2001).

Graduated sanctions: acknowledge the very real possibility of offender relapse, and treat relapse as an opportunity to reinforce rehabilitation. The severity of sanction is matched to the lapse, and in line with findings about human learning, sanctions quickly follow the behaviour in question. Responses are intended to promote positive behaviours rather than simply to punish, and so may include short custodial spells, but not an automatic return to prison for any and all violations (Travis and Petersilia 2001).

A New Criminal Justice Ethos: A Corrections of Place

This restorative approach (also known as community justice, environmental corrections, or neighbourhood parole) has a community orientation, and also explicitly acknowledges the role of victims. Clear (eg Clear and Karp 2000) has remarked that it is both a philosophy and a process that aims to transform the criminal justice system from a defender of the law, into a community resource. Variants of this justice ethos can:

  • draw on a routine activity approach to crime, resulting in situational crime prevention responses
  • be seen as derived from Gottfredson and Taylor's (1986) exploration of recidivism risk as a function of person-environment interactions
  • acknowledge the benefits of drawing on informal social controls (such as positive family and other relationships, and pro-social community networks) in addition to the formal controls of the traditional criminal justice system
  • employ notions of community policing, and,
  • advocate what works (evidence-based) correctional principles.

Community justice is oriented towards place, in recognition of the way one's geographical community can influence life chances. It also acknowledges the existence of crime hotspots. It provides a model that can explicitly address the community collateral consequences of imprisonment that accrue in localities with high numbers of incarcerated and returning prisoners (see Chapter 4). It aims to improve public safety, to strengthen informal social controls, to build community capacity, and so improve quality of life.

Post-release issues are explicitly addressed by the placement of community corrections staff in the community to which offenders return.10 This differs to conventional parole supervision on a number of dimensions:

  • community correctional workers are placed at locations central to returning offenders rather than central to other criminal justice functions
  • these community corrections locations also act as central points for other services, such as accommodation, employment, or health, and as a general community resource
  • community correctional staff members view the neighbourhood, rather than the offender alone, as the 'client', which requires staff to understand and know the neighbourhood and its inhabitants
  • staff aim to improve community safety, not simply to provide offender supervision
  • staff aim to pro-actively prevent crime and other community problems by identifying potential crime hot spots (a kind of 'risk assessment of place'), and by creatively addressing identified community issues
  • staff work in partnerships with community businesses, community networks, families, other justice agencies, other welfare services, and returned prisoners, to maximise community capabilities, and minimise individual re-offending11
  • staff foster community guardianship, where community teams mentor individuals, and sponsor activities that aim to contend with crime hotspots
  • staff engage in contact visits with individuals in a range of locations, and out-of-hours, to learn about the offender's own risks and strengths, and to assist with resettlement
  • staff aim to decrease an individual's opportunities to offend within their own community (using conditions, as with traditional parole, but considering the precise environment, aware of the offender's own risks and strengths)
  • offenders are encouraged to be accountable, to give back to the community, and to recognise their crimes, and
  • punishment, surveillance and formal controls are used, but as tools for reintegration, and not simply as punitive ends.

Theorists note that because community justice aims to respond to the unique problems encountered within communities, this approach is necessarily flexible. It is not so flexible though that all returning offenders will be best managed within this framework - high-risk offenders will still need to be adequately identified and suitably controlled to minimise the risk of serious re-offending (Clear 1996).

Refer to Clear (1996); Clear and Cadora (2002); Clear and Karp (2000); Cullen, Eck and Lowenkamp (2002); Petersilia (1999); and Rhine (2002) for more detail.

System Wide Service Delivery

The broad aims of correctional models such as community justice require alternate correctional practices in order to implement policy goals. Although these models are new, the principles underpinning post-release reintegration have been long recognised. For instance, the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders (UK; 1963) noted that effective compulsory aftercare:

  • required integrated actions from custodial and community staff
  • should commence at reception
  • should be available as long as necessary after release
  • should include both support and supervision
  • should involve pre-release planning incorporating family care, and
  • should include post-release assessment of conduct.

The following addresses in detail the various correctional practices related to the implementation of throughcare and post-release services.

Continuum of Care

Research now supports the notion that aftercare should commence before release (see Travis 2000), and so is more rightly called throughcare. In providing care that spans the gap between prison and community, gains from in-prison treatment are retained and can be applied, can be seen as relevant, and can be reinforced in daily life (Altschuler and Armstrong 2002). This is especially true for drug-involved offenders (eg Terry-McElrath, McBride, Vander Waal and Ruel 2002). It is optimal that the treatment and services offered in prison are continued (or at least mirrored) upon release, which includes ensuring that the treatment ethos is consistent between community and custody (see Fox 2002). Continuous care naturally requires enhanced links between custodial institutions and the broader community.

For further information: Burrows, Clarke, Davison, Tarling and Webb (2001); Farabee, Prendergast, Cartier, Wexler, Knight and Anglin (1999); Taxman (1998).

Intervening Early

Because complexly interwoven, long-term problems often require long-term solutions, the earlier in the custodial term that services and programs are initiated, the longer the treatment, and the greater the likelihood that interventions will produce positive outcomes. This is even more important with short-term prisoners or remandees, because the window of opportunity in which to establish a program of throughcare is severely reduced. Therefore, assessment for and allocation to services and supports should occur at reception into prison (eg HM Inspectorate of Prisons 1986), although some suggest that services instigated at very first contact with the justice system may be even more appropriate (eg Birgden 2002).

Whilst a network of interventions to address an offender's risks and needs should be initiated at the earliest possible point, individual interventions need to be delivered in a timely fashion. If programs are delivered long before release and learning cannot be applied to daily community life, gains may be lost and replaced with criminogenic or negative ways of behaving that are appropriate within a prison setting but counter to mainstream reintegration (see Brewster and Sharp 2002).

Surveillance and Support

Although intensive monitoring and surveillance alone have not produced demonstrable crime reduction benefits relative to traditional supervision, research suggests that decreases in recidivism may arise when an offender is subject to supervision control in combination with rehabilitative treatment in the community (MacKenzie 1997). The level of surveillance must be appropriate to risk however, because there is little evidence of crime reduction gains from the reimprisonment of low risk offenders for technical violations of parole conditions (Altschuler and Armstrong 1999). Other research has shown that less intensive, more traditional supervision that is properly enforced can improve re-offending outcomes relative to supervision that is not enforced. For example, one study examined actual and predicted risk among offenders serving community sentences in the UK. The rapid and appropriate enforcement of probation conditions (when compared to poor enforcement) decreased actual recidivism, relative to but regardless of, the level of predicted re-offending risk (May and Wadwell 2001).

A critical element of traditional community supervision has been assisting the offender to manage their behaviour and comply with societal norms. Community corrections officers have tended to occupy dual roles of 'enforcer' and 'social worker'. The recent trend in the USA has been towards emphasis of the surveillance function at the cost of support (eg Seiter 2002), yet in order to help offenders manage their behaviour, workers should be 'agents of change', where both support and surveillance are directed at increasing reintegrative success (Taxman 2002). The difficulties associated with this role shift are both practical and philosophical. For instance, workers need to contend with issues of confidentiality between functions, as well as gaining offender trust. Returning prisoners may also find it difficult to reconcile a case manager that apparently holds conflicting roles. Even when this can be reconciled, the rapport necessary for effective support and role modelling must necessarily taper off as a client nears the end of supervision. However, this tapering can be seen as a negative by clients, a kind of removal of valuable support (eg Meisel 2001), and so must also be appropriately addressed.

Case Management

In order to prevent the recurrence of offending, the factors that have precipitated it in the past need to be identified, and then systematically removed (Travis 2000). This will often require the coordination of a range of disparate services and supports because treatment and services will probably be provided by different government and non-government agencies. In order to navigate these sometimes uncommunicative and occasionally alienating organisations, and to ensure continuity between custody and community, offenders require a central point of contact. A case manager can fulfil this function, acting as a single point of reference for offenders.

A case manager (or case management team) can link offenders to their required services and treatments, can monitor progress and report this to the appropriate authorities (or adopt the surveillance function themselves), and can ensure that treatment and support continues from custody to community. Case managers may also take responsibility for linking offenders to informal networks and other forms of unstructured community support. See Box 3.1 for detail of the stages involved in correctional case management.

Case managed throughcare can take a variety of forms, including:

  • outreach, or prison staff contacting the community for appropriate services
  • in reach (or reach-in), where community correctional staff commence work with offenders pre-release, and
  • non-correctional providers delivering case management.

Within this, the manager may actively broker the required services for an offender, or may provide services themselves. They may adopt what has become known as activist supervision, which is traditional parole supervision by community corrections staff, coupled with the active procurement of employment and the provision of other supports (Petersilia 1999). The manager may choose to build around the positive components in an offender's life and environment - around those positives that can improve the likelihood of reintegration. This strengths-based approach evolved within the mental health care system, and so does not directly address the fact that within a correctional milieu, case management must appropriately address relapse, new offending, and anti-social behaviours and attitudes. A strengths-based case management approach may therefore require some adaptation within the criminal justice system (Murphy Healey 1999).

Regardless of the type of case management pursued, it is critical that services are responsive to and appropriate for the offender's level of risk and need. Case management plans should also employ an offender's input regarding perceived needs and past experiences, including past treatments, so as to maximise compliance.

Box 3.1 Stages in a Case Management Model

  • Intake: involving orientation, discussion of sanctions, etc., and also involving crisis intervention where required.
  • Assessment: to provide an understanding of the types of interventions required, so involving history taking or interviews and evaluation.
  • Classification: to guide placement in institutions and services.
  • Referral: to those services, dependent on offender risk and needs.
  • Intervention: matching available resources and services to identified needs, but viewing the offender as responsible for program compliance and for changing their offending behaviour.
  • Monitoring: used in conjunction with graduated sanctions. The need for monitoring and sanctions should ideally decrease over time as the offender assumes increased responsibility.
  • Evaluation: to assess if prescribed services have been delivered and were effective.
  • Advocacy: including testimony, arranging legal services, mediation of difficult life situations (eg, access to children) or finding solutions to other larger issues (eg, developing inter-agency connections).

    Adapted from Murphy Healey (1999; after Enos & Southern 1996)

A systems approach to the case management of correctional clients (see Taxman and Sherman 2002) recognises that agencies delivering both treatment and supervision must act in coordination, more like a single agency. This approach sees case management as a core function in the supervision and treatment of offenders. Criminal justice and treatment agencies are linked by operational policies and procedures to ensure good client outcomes, and a clear understanding of different roles. System wide policies ensure adequate resourcing. An important aspect of this approach is the monitoring of progress to allow refinement of both treatment and supervision plans, and to inform decision-making regarding the client. This requires that all agencies have timely access to relevant client information.

For further information: Altschuler and Armstrong (1999); Ferguson (2002); Field (1998); HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2001); Murphy Healey (1999); Nissen (2001); Petersilia (1999); Rhine (2002).


If a case manager is to provide continuous care, they must be able to negotiate with and access a range of services. Clearly this process will be facilitated by formal partnerships between relevant organisations. Partnerships also acknowledge that the task of reintegration requires a whole of government and whole of community response.

The form of the re-entry partnerships will vary with the type of services to be delivered, the manner in which case management will be conducted, and the degree of broad community involvement. For instance, in the US, Department of Justice-supported Reentry Partnership Initiatives between law enforcement, corrections, businesses, and other government and community organisations were formed to develop and implement re-entry plans for paroled and unconditionally released offenders. When implemented, these plans then drew on this network of community resources to provide comprehensive throughcare, improve offender risk management (via better surveillance and monitoring), and address victim reparation (eg see Taxman, Young, Byrne, Holsinger, Anspach, Thanner and Silverman 2001; US General Accounting Office 2001).

For further information: Altschuler and Armstrong (1999); Field (1998); Kuehl (2001); Taxman and Sherman (2002); Valentine (2001).

Risk Assessment

The assessment of the risk an offender poses is a critical component of case management. A failure to assess offenders has been likened to medical professionals prescribing treatment for undiagnosed patients (Latessa, Cullen and Gendreau 2002).

Risk assessment is not a new concept. For instance, the process of granting parole has always involved consideration of potential offender risk, and assessment information gathered by community correctional staff has also informed pre-sentence reports. However corrections are increasingly employing standardised techniques for assessing risk. The tools used today are typically derived actuarially. This means data collated from the large-scale study of many offenders, ideally within the jurisdiction of interest, are mathematically examined to consider how certain offender characteristics are related to observed re-offending. Factors considered include criminal history, personal characteristics, and aspects of an offender's current life, such as employment, mental health, or alcohol and drug use. Subsequently assessed offenders are then measured on those identified factors, and their individual level of risk is calculated.

In employing what has been called third-generation risk assessment (examining history, plus current life, in a systematic mathematical way, see Bonta 1997), authorities can ensure that decisions about risk are reached in a uniform fashion. This also ensures that limited throughcare resources are appropriately allocated to those offenders most in need. If risk assessment is conducted at intake to the justice system and then regularly throughout custody and into the community, it also allows relevant adjustments to be made to individual offender treatment and transition program plans.

For further information: Jones, Masters, Griffiths, and Moulday (2002); Latessa, Cullen and Gendreau (2002); May (1999); Raynor, Kynch, Roberts and Merrington (2001)

Evidence-Based Corrections and Accreditation

To ensure that the services and treatments delivered to returning offenders produce the best possible outcomes, those services should be built on principles and practices that have been shown to work in the past. An evidence-based approach seeks to identify 'what works', and uses knowledge gained from systematic research and evaluation. It also contributes back to that knowledge base by ensuring programs and services are evaluated in a rigorous fashion.

One system wide approach to evidence-based corrections is a process of accreditation. Under a system of accreditation, correctional programs are categorised on the basis of how effectively they have been shown to work to achieve stated outcomes. Those programs that are demonstrably effective are accredited and become part of the core correctional curriculum (eg Correctional Service of Canada 2002). An example of this is the What Works approach adopted in England and Wales (Home Office 1999; National Audit Office 2002). This system of accreditation requires programs to satisfy numerous stringent criteria. A panel independent of the UK Prison and Probation Services, consisting of academic experts, researchers, and operational staff, assess the degree with which programs satisfy pre-defined criteria. The process of accreditation is typically time consuming, and involves program designers fine-tuning the program on the advice of the panel. Some criteria used in accreditation in the UK include:

  • program grounded in evidence
  • program targets criminogenic needs
  • program delivers appropriate dosage, and
  • clear documentation to allow program duplication.

A philosophy of evidence-based policy and practice should not be over-interpreted to mean evidence-led policy and practice. Research findings in isolation are not sufficient to explain outcomes, and it is important that evidence is used to formulate testable theories (Cullen and Gendreau 2000). Nor should evidence be used in lieu of policy - an over-reliance on evaluation outcomes can disguise the fact that an organisation may not have explicit goals (Cohn 2002). More pragmatically, governments rarely have the luxury to be able to wait until all evidence is gathered when formulating policy, and they must often be guided by moral considerations (Tilley 2001).

Some have advocated for a more specific approach to what works, acknowledging the complex set of unique triggers behind individuals' offending behaviour. This would involve gathering evidence about the efficacy of certain programs, in particular locations, with certain types of offenders - realistic evaluation that asks 'what works for whom, in what circumstances, and how?' (see Tilley 2001).

Examples of System Wide Responses to Returning Prisoners

Systems of post-release and throughcare services that variously draw on these concepts have been implemented in some overseas jurisdictions. For instance, the CARAT (Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare) service is a good example of an outreach, case management approach to continuous care. CARAT is part of the UK Government's strategy for addressing drug issues among offenders. This service is explicitly designed to provide continuous drug services between prison and community, using external treatment providers. CARAT also provides post-release support for up to eight weeks after re-entry if necessary, and links ex-offenders with other community services. CARAT is currently available in every prison in England and Wales, with a dedicated worker in each institution (Crime Reduction 2003; HM Prison Service 2002; Social Exclusion Unit 2002).

The US Bureau of Prisons oversees federal prisoners, who undergo an intensive, three-stage reintegration process that commences at prison reception. Programs addressing employment, education, and drug use are delivered whilst in custody. These are not only intended to enhance reintegrative prospects, but also to minimise inmate idleness and so enhance custodial staff safety. Program participation can continue throughout residence in a community-based transitional facility (a halfway house). Assessment for halfway house placement occurs around one year prior to release, and prisoners spend up to 180 days in one of these facilities. Probation officers provide follow-up community support for the period of community supervision (up to five years post-release), intended to reduce offender risk and to facilitate access to treatment. Importantly, probation officers in the jurisdiction where the offender will be supervised are provided information regarding the returning prisoner around three months before release. Offenders contact probation officers within three days of release, and supervision plans, including treatment in all relevant problem areas, are devised (see US General Accounting Office 2001).

In Australia, the Victorian Government in early 2001 commenced Bridging the Gap, a two-year pilot program to improve the delivery of post-release support. The program also tried to address the high rates of recidivism and concerns about post-release drug-related deaths among released prisoners. The program used a model where community agencies were funded to provide intensive, case managed pre- and post-release support to particular sub-populations. Agencies provided direct service provision and referrals to drug and alcohol treatment, accommodation, education, health, legal assistance, training and employment as well as family support (Melbourne Criminology Research and Evaluation Unit, 2003).

An evaluation of the pilot phase of Bridging the Gap showed program participants had better outcomes on measures of drug dependence, participation in treatment programs and accommodation (Melbourne Criminology Research and Evaluation Unit, 2003). These outcomes were associated with reduced post-release offending, at least while participants were in contact with their support agency. Once participants stopped being in regular contact with their support agency rates of re-offending rose to be no better than released prisoners not participating in the program. These findings point both to the importance of appropriate support in achieving good post-release outcomes, and the challenge of translating short-term gains into long-term changes.

Traditional justice systems need to move from viewing parolees as liabilities to be supervised, to seeing them as assets to be managed (Travis 2000). Box 3.1 summarises the features of re-entry court, a system wide strategy aimed at improving re-entry outcomes, and an example of an asset management approach. It can also be seen as an example of therapeutic jurisprudence, because it uses the law to assist in offender adjustment to community life. It allows offenders to demonstrate their willingness to adhere to positive social norms, whilst also providing thorough oversight of this process, and sufficient support to make it viable. It is essentially case management vested with the authority of the judiciary.

Re-entry court can also be a vehicle for offender community reinstatement. Offender reparation would be acknowledged but would be complemented by the formal removal of the stigmatisation ex-prisoners carry after release (see Chapter 4). The court, possibly at the direction of a jury, would preside over the community reinstatement (Siegfried 2001). This strengths-based extension of the re-entry court model argues that a status elevation conferred by the same authorities that conferred the status degradation at conviction can have strong social and psychological impact upon court participants. A strengths-based approach is therefore future-oriented, aiming to genuinely reintegrate offenders. Rather than the justice system dictating what needs to be done to offenders, this approach establishes what the offender can do to make amends, and so other features of a strengths-based re-entry court would include:

  • 'active responsibility', where offenders are responsible for future actions, not simply past actions, and
  • rewarding positive achievements, not simply punishing violations. In its most extreme form, punishments would be eliminated (see Maruna and LeBel 2003).

Box 3.2 Features of the re-entry court


  • Therapeutic jurisprudence, or an active role for the law in assisting offenders
  • Resemblance to Drug Court.


  • Stabilisation of the offender, to reduce recidivism at release.
  • Formalisation of the re-entry process.
  • The provision of a period of community supervision in which the offender can make restitution and demonstrate their willingness to become a productive community member (the custodial term alone fulfils the punishment function).


  • Offender sentenced with specified community (re-entry) component, or non-sentencing judge delivers community component as offender nears release.
  • Court oversees entire process, with active offender oversight plus management of supportive services.
  • Court outlines conditions and mandates service and programs.
  • Short symbolic appearances to explain an offender's obligations and reinforce the court's authority.
  • Public recognition of the repayment of an offender's debt to society.
  • Continuity of care from custody to community.
  • Re-entry plan, including the payment of restitution to victims.
  • Daily activities managed by a correctional officer: assessment and planning by corrections and community corrections to identify inmates, assess their needs and forge necessary community links (taking advantage of neighbourhood support).
  • Graduated sanctions in response to violations, and rewards for pro-social behaviour eg, good behaviour leading to accelerated rate of regaining withheld rights.
  • Accountability to the broader community eg, court liaison with a citizen advisory board.

For further information: Clear & Cadora (2002); Maruna & LeBel (2003); Spelman (2003); Travis (2000); Travis (1999); US General Accounting Office (2001).

Specific Services and Programs

Principles of Effective Correctional Programming

Despite minimal emphasis on a rehabilitative agenda until recent years, a body of research into correctional programming has accumulated. Researchers have reviewed this body of work using a range of techniques. The most systematic of these techniques is meta-analysis. As noted previously, this technique converts treatment outcome study findings into a common metric. This allows average effects of treatment to be calculated over multiple studies. Meta-analyses have shown that when compared to offenders who do not receive rehabilitative treatment, offenders who are treated can be up to 40 per cent less likely to re-offend (see Cullen and Gendreau 2000).

Not all programs contain the same elements therefore this effect varies with the type of treatment administered. For instance, meta-analyses have shown that programs that are only sanction-based, are psychodynamic and non-directive, or that fail to target criminogenic needs are less likely to result in lowered recidivism (Gendreau and Goggin 1996). The largest effect sizes for treatment emerge with appropriate programs. Programs are considered appropriate when they adhere to certain principles, and these principles are sometimes seen as synonymous with the what works approach. These principles are outlined in Box 3.3.

Box 3.3 Principles of Effective Correctional Programming


  • Level of risk should be systematically assessed, ideally using third-generation tools that assess static risk factors (eg, criminal history) as well as the dynamic risk factors that are linked to offending.


  • Some dynamic factors are also known as criminogenic needs: those attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviours that when changed will decrease recidivism eg, pro-criminal attitudes, substance abuse, poor problem solving, criminal associates, etc.

Programs should be matched to risk level, with higher risk offenders subject to more intensive interventions. By extension, offenders at extremely high risk may be treatable only with great difficulty, or not amenable to intervention.

Responsivity to treatment

Is the principle that aims to maximise therapeutic gains, by ensuring that programs are well suited to capitalise on characteristics of the offender and of the treatment situation. It has two aspects

  • General responsivity: programs should match offender needs, and are best delivered using cognitive behavioural techniques, specifically involving:
    • a clear treatment structure;
    • modelling of appropriate behaviours and the provision of feedback by the therapist;
    • punishment used in conjunction positive reinforcers, with the latter most often employed; and
    • appropriately trained staff, responsive to offenders.
  • Content of cognitive-behavioural treatment programs could include:
    • training in behavioural skills, such as replacing anxiety with positive coping;
    • problem solving training eg, enhancing the ability to foresee the consequences of actions; and
    • social skills training, to improve the ability to cope with social encounters.
  • Specific responsivity: programs should respond to individual characteristics of the client and should be guided by the preferred learning styles, abilities and cultural needs of the offender.

Program Integrity

  • Ensuring that programs are delivered in a structured manner according to these principles and adhering to the theoretical and design underpinnings of the program. Ensuring that program staff are appropriately qualified and that rigorous program evaluations occur can enhance integrity.

Professional Discretion

  • Appropriately trained staff should use their training, skills and experience to enhance any program gains, such as identifying risks and needs that might not be detected using a standardised assessment tool.

Other elements

  • Dosage and duration: treatment programs should be delivered for long enough to impact upon offending (at least 100 hours with daily contact is optimal).
  • Setting: community settings are better than institutional settings, possibly because of factors within custodial settings such as organisational resistance or staff motivation. Although not optimal, an institution can, nonetheless, provide a stabilising environment for some offenders.
  • Aftercare: providing continuing assistance once the formal treatment phase is complete.
  • Multimodal: targets the full set of offender-specific needs, such as problem solving, social skills training, anger control, etc., (rather than simply some presumed set of offender-generic needs) and uses a variety of treatment modes (eg, role plays, cognitive training, etc).
  • Role of theory: programs should draw on an evidence-base but should not be atheoretical, and so should strive to establish how programs act to be effective.

For further information: Birgden & McLachlan 2002; Bonta (1997); Cullen & Gendreau (2000); The Forensic & Applied Psychology Research Group (2000); Gaes, Flanagan, Motiuk & Stewart (1999); Gendreau & Goggin (1996); Howells & Day (1999); Lawrence, Mears, Dubin & Travis (2002); Lösel (1996); Serin & Kennedy (1997); Vennard, Sugg & Hedderman (1997).

The role of offender motivation in correctional programs has been examined. Researchers have noted that motivation is linked to responsivity to treatment, and that gains should accrue when an offender is motivated to change (Serin and Kennedy 1997). Qualitative research conducted in the USA also found that offenders who had turned their lives around - who had successfully reintegrated - only did so when pervasive and meaningful motivators, such as hitting 'rock bottom' or religious revelation, presented themselves (Solomon, Gouvis and Waul 2001). It may therefore be necessary to employ tools to assess the level of offender readiness to change. If an offender is not motivated, the lack of motivation should be targeted as an additional criminogenic need (Birgden and McLachlan 2002). It is also critical that services are available at that time when an offender is motivated to change, to maximise their chances of success (Solomon, Gouvis and Waul 2001).

Other research, particularly that investigating in-prison drug treatment, has found that the motivation that initially impels a prisoner to participate in programs (eg escaping boredom, or mandated participation) does not necessarily impact upon the size of treatment gains (Field 1998). Coercion can be a sufficient external motivator in some circumstances, because by enforcing participation, an offender can be subject to treatment of a sufficient duration to produce behavioural change. However, there are moral considerations surrounding enforced participation, and findings regarding coerced participation should not rule out consideration of alternate, but positive external motivators, such as the possibility of a reduced sentence (Harrison 2001). Others have observed that there has not yet been sufficient research into the long-term effects of coerced participation when compared to internal motivators of behavioural change (Farabee, Prendergast, Cartier, Wexler, Knight and Anglin 1999).

Criticisms of the Principles Approach to Correctional Programming

Practitioners and researchers have not universally accepted a rigid adherence to these program principles, which is sometimes called a risk management approach to correctional programming. For instance, programmatic responses can become highly inflexible when treatment manuals are used to guide all aspects of program delivery. Specifically, an inflexible, 'manual' approach can negate the responsivity principle that demands individualised responding to individual offenders. Additionally, clinicians' experience and skills will be under-utilised with too rigid an approach to treatment delivery, and a strict focus on cognitive behavioural techniques can stifle innovation in practice (Hollin 2002, after Wilson 1996).

The strong emphasis on a cognitive behavioural response to offending can also mean that the complex networks of issues confronting prisoners cannot be addressed in a suitably multidimensional fashion (Rumgay 2003). Treatment models that focus on only criminogenic needs can fail to address other factors external to offenders that nonetheless influence the probability of successful community reintegration (see Chapter 4), and can fail to utilise the strengths in offenders' lives.

The offender-centred focus of the evidence-based approach can appear to be in opposition to the community focus of strengths-based offender management. However, the two can be seen as complementary, so that a what works ethos informs effective theoretically-driven rehabilitative practice, and community-centred corrections allow for that rehabilitation to occur in an environment of 'community wellness' (see Paparozzi 2003a). Amalgams of risk management and strengths-based approaches to treatment and services have been developed. For example, in one model, the more typical risk assessment can guide treatment, but the aim of the process is not simply the management of offender risk, but the achievement of good lives (Ward 2002). The good lives perspective acknowledges the importance of individuals' environments, and so involves a careful assessment of individual's aims and assets, as well as the obstacles that prevent them living a fulfilling life, free of offending (their human, rather than only their criminogenic needs, see also Ward and Stewart 2003).

In practice, a system acknowledging both risk and the whole person would involve the delivery of offence-specific programs that directly address criminogenic needs, and offence-related interventions (addressing factors that can affect reintegration, such as accommodation). The system would also involve interventions aimed at enhancing capabilities, such as improving self-esteem (see Birgden and McLachlan 2002). It would require community corrections officers to expand their role beyond enforcing assessment-driven case plans and brokering services, to include tasks such as helping to establish pro-social networks for offenders (see Gavazzi, Yarcheck, Rhine and Partridge 2003).

9 See Beatty and Gregorie (2003) for discussion of the practical aspects and logistical difficulties associated with victim involvement in the correctional process in the USA.

10 Although offering a direct means of addressing re-entry, it is a broader framework that encompasses all aspects of the criminal justice system, including corrections and policing.

11 One model maximises partnerships between community corrections and the whole of the community of return: 'Citizens Circles' develop accountability plans for offenders (who volunteer to participate and also meet relevant criteria and work to facilitate the re-entry process). The circle is made up of representatives of local police, businesses, victim groups, corrections, etc, and circle members collaborate to help offenders realise and meet their responsibilities, and to become contributing citizens themselves (eg, see Rhine, Matthews II, Sampson & Daley 2003).