Publication Details

Howells, K., Day, A., Byrne, S. & Byrne, M. (1999). Risk, needs and responsivity in violence rehabilitation: Implications for programs with Indigenous offenders. Best practice interventions in corrections for Indigenous people (pp. 1-8).


As a group of forensic psychologists with a background in clinical practice and research with offenders, we share the perception that sensitivity to cultural issues is a neglected area in offender rehabilitation. Perhaps this should be stated more strongly: that cultural dimensions of offender rehabilitation programs require urgent attention. We are working to understand how rehabilitation programs can be most appropriately offered to Aboriginal offenders, with a particular interest in programs dealing with anger, aggression and violence ( Howells et al, 1997). Our starting point in this area has been an interest in whether the rehabilitation of offenders works - in the sense of reducing recidivism (see Hollin, 1999 ; Howells and Day, 1999). Reading the literature gives us grounds for optimism. There is increasing evidence that rehabilitation programs can have a significant impact in reducing rates of reoffending. Rather than assessing whether rehabilitation programs work, our interest is increasingly focused on assessing the characteristics of the most effective programs. In the rehabilitation literature there are three main principles which have been widely endorsed as underlying more effective programs (reference here). In this paper we will explore whether and how these principles might inform our thinking about developing programs for offenders from Indigenous backgrounds. The Risk Principle (reference) suggests that the offenders who are most likely to reoffend should be targeted for rehabilitation programs. Research has suggested that higher risk offenders benefit the most from programs, while programs have a small or even a negative impact upon lower risk offenders. The second principle - the Needs Principle , suggests that programs should address the known needs of offenders. The cornerstone of the Needs Principle is that the contents and targets of programs should be factors which can be demonstrated to be significant causal influences for offending behaviour itself, in the population being addressed. We prefer the language of functional analysis in this context ( Sturmey, 1996). We should direct our attention towards functionally important aspects of the environment and the person. The evidence suggests that rehabilitation programs often do not target areas of demonstrated need (reference). Finally the Responsivity Principle suggests that programs should be designed and delivered in such ways that participants are likely to respond. That is, programs should be adapted to the specific features of the group being offered the rehabilitation program. In this paper we will use these principles to develop an understanding of how anger management or other violence programs can be most appropriately offered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders.