The principles of effective intervention are a set of features common among treatment programs and other studies conducted within the criminal justice field that have been shown to reduce recidivism rates of offenders who successfully complete the program. Offenders are recommended for varying programs based on an assessment performed once the offender has become incarcerated. The assessment usually combines several dynamic and static risk assessment factors in order to classify an offender with the appropriate level of risk and with the appropriate treatment programs (Van Voorhis, Braswell & Lester, 2007).
One of the main characteristics of an appropriate treatment, as described in the principles of effective intervention, is that the treatment is based on behavioral strategies of treatment (Van Voorhis et al., 2007). There are several behavioral strategies that have been shown to be effective for offender populations including radical behavioral interventions, social learning models (Van Voorhis et al., 2007), reinforcement therapy (Spiegler & Guevremont, 1993), and aggression replacement training (Goldstein, Glick & Gibbs, 1998) among other interventions. Smith, Gendreau, and Goggin describe several therapeutic practices that program facilitators should be familiar with when working with offender populations. These practices include “anticriminal modeling, effective reinforcement and disapproval, problem-solving techniques, structured learning procedures for skill building, effective use of authority, cognitive self-change, relationship practices, and motivational interviewing” (Van Voorhis et al., 2007, p. 317).
Additionally, an effective program should have a clear and understandable manual that describes the theory and data that justify using the intended programs. The manual should also include a curriculum with detailed and explicit steps to follow when presenting the material (Van Voorhis et al., 2007). A good example of a well organized and thorough manual is presented by Goldstein, Glick, and Gibbs (1998) in their discussion of aggression replacement training.
The most effective types of treatment are those that are located within the offender’s natural environment. If it is not possible to present the treatment program within the offender’s natural environment than an “in vivo” intervention should be conducted that closely emanates the offender’s natural environment. In addition, the treatment should be multimodal. Treatment should be geared towards multiple needs of the offender, especially criminogenic needs, and should present numerous interventions designed to focus on the many needs of the offender (Van Voorhis et al., 2007).
The treatment process should be as individualized as possible to the unique offender undergoing treatment. Prosocial behavior should comprise a minimum of forty percent of the program and should be rewarded at a ratio of 4 to 1 compared to punishments received. The behaviors that should be targeted for correcting and replacing should be those that are most associated with and predictors of future criminal behavior and should be dynamic in nature. These behaviors should be targeted by using valid actuarial assessments such as those described by Bonta (2002). The risk principle should also be followed by treating medium- to high-risk offenders who are the most likely to benefit from treatment (Van Voorhis et al., 2007).
It is also important to consider the responsivity principle when deciding which treatment programs should be used with which offender. For example, if an offender is unable to write it would not be appropriate for that offender to be classified based on a written test (Van Voorhis et al., 2007). There are four popular testing methods within the criminal justice field: paper and pencil tests, interview-based tests, behavioral methods and file extraction methods (Bonta, 2002). These tests should be used in conjunction with one another instead of relying on one testing method to classify every offender (Van Voorhis et al., 2007).
Once the formal treatment phase has ended, offender progress should be monitored while the offender is in the community. Aftercare should be offered to offenders on an as-needed bases to strengthen the prosocial skills learned during treatment. These relapse prevention programs are especially helpful with chronic problems such as sex offenses and drug abuse (Van Voorhis et al., 2007).
The principles of effective intervention also prescribe several system factors that must be implemented properly for effective service delivery. These system factors include the “quality of the program implementation, the training and credentials of program directors and staff, the degree to which the organization engages in inter-agency communication and advocacy brokerage, the involvement of program directors in the design and day-to-day operations of the program,” as well as several other factors concerned with the overall qualifications of the staff and the adequacy of the treatment location (Van Voorhis et al., 2007, p. 318).
Correctional agencies that follow the principles of effective intervention should not only benefit from higher rates of effective and appropriate placement of offenders into treatment programs but also from lower levels of recidivism from offenders who successfully complete the treatment prescribed. The principles of effective intervention have been found to be effective through a large number of comprehensive studies that have been conducted looking at the principles as a whole and also at the individual sections of the principle. Additionally, there have been several meta-analyses conducted that show the effectiveness of the principles of effective intervention (Van Voorhis et al., 2007).
Bonta, J. (2002). Offender Risk Assessment: Guidelines for Selection and Use. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 29: 355-379.
Goldstein, A., Glick, B., & Gibbs, J. (1998). Aggression Replacement Training: A Comprehensive Intervention for Aggressive Youth (rev. ed.), Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Spielgler, M. & Guevremont, D. (1993). Contemporary Behavior Therapy, Pacific Grove: Brooks Cole, Ch 6 & 7.
Van Voorhis, P., Braswell, M. & Lester, D. (2007). Correctional Counseling and Rehabilitation, 7th ed., Cincinnati, OH: Lexis/Nexis.