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

Deirdre M. D’Orazio (Central Coast Clinical and Forensic Psychology Services, Atascadero, California, USA)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 7 August 2017



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.


A mix of qualitative and quantitative methods assessed treatment methods, therapeutic climate, group therapy environment, therapist style, and staff and participants’ perceptions.


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.


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.



D’Orazio, D.M. (2017), "Evaluating the responsivity principle in prison-based programs for sexual offending behavior", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 192-205.



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