No program or intervention can be expected to work for everyone. Providing too much or the wrong kind of services not only fails to improve outcomes, but it can make outcomes worse by placing excessive burdens on some participants and interfering with their engagement in productive activities, like work or school. This is the foundation for a body of evidence-based principles referred to as risk, need, responsivity, or RNR (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). RNR is derived from decades of research demonstrating that the best outcomes are achieved in the criminal justice system when (1) the intensity of criminal justice supervision is matched to participants’ risk for criminal recidivism or likelihood of failure in rehabilitation (criminogenic risk) and (2) interventions focus on the specific disorders or conditions that are responsible for participants’ crimes (criminogenic needs) (Andrews et al., 1990, 2006; Gendreau et al., 2006; Lipsey & Cullen, 2007; Lowenkamp et al., 2006a, 2006b; Smith et al., 2009; Taxman & Marlowe, 2006). Moreover, mixing participants with different levels of risk or need in the same treatment groups or residential programs has been found to increase crime, substance use, and other undesirable outcomes, because it exposes low-risk participants to antisocial peers and values (e.g., Lloyd et al., 2014; Lowenkamp & Latessa, 2004; Lowenkamp et al., 2005; Welsh & Rocque, 2014; Wexler et al., 2004).
Despite compelling evidence validating these RNR principles, many behavioral health and criminal justice professionals misconstrue the concepts of risk, need, and responsivity, leading them to deliver the wrong services to the wrong persons and in the wrong order. Even with the best of intentions to follow evidence-based practices, many programs inadvertently waste precious resources, frustrate consumers, and deliver lackluster results. To enhance program effectiveness and efficiency, it is necessary to translate these research-based principles into terms that are familiar to many practitioners, to help them select the most appropriate interventions under the right circumstances.