‘What Works’ in Corrections: What drives GEO Reentry programming

“What Works” is a term used nationally by correctional agencies in reference to researched principles and practices common to effective public safety and offender programming. What Works research has also identified the offender attributes, “Criminogenic Risks and Needs,” that successful correctional programs must target (Gendreau, P. & Andrews, D.A. 1990).

The mission of a What Works system states that public safety and offender change are accomplished by risk control and risk reduction through an integrated system of sanctions and interventions. A What Works environment means that everyone who has anything to do directly or indirectly with an offender, from entry into the system to completion, is focused on assisting that person to be successful and is consistent on how they do that. At GEO Reentry, we have a systematic training program for reentry program staff — both in-prison and in-community centers — that focus on immersing staffing in What Works and evidence-based practices. As more and more agencies adapt these principles, out team collaborates to deliver a uniform approach to working with individuals referred to our programs.

Effective treatment based on What Works must address:

  • Criminogenic Risk
  • Criminogenic Need
  • Responsivity
  • Relapse Prevention Strategies

Criminogenic Risk

Attributes associated with criminal behaviors and recidivism include (Gendreau, P. & Andrews, D.A. 1990):

  • Antisocial attitudes, values and beliefs (criminal thinking)
  • Pro-criminal associates and isolation from prosocial associates
  • Particular temperament and behavioral characteristics (e.g., egocentrism)
  • Weak problem-solving and social skills
  • Criminal history
  • Negative family factors (i.e., abuse, unstructured or undisciplined environment, criminality in the family, substance abuse in the family)
  • Low levels of vocational and educational skills
  • Substance abuse

The more risk factors present, the greater the risk for committing criminal acts.

The Risk Principle

The risk principle embodies the assumption that criminal behavior can be predicted for individual offenders on the basis of certain factors. Some factors, such as criminal history, are static and unchangeable. Others, such as substance abuse, antisocial attitudes and antisocial associates, are dynamic and changeable. With proper assessment of these factors, researchers and practitioners have demonstrated that it is possible to classify offenders according to their relative likelihood of committing new offenses with as much as 80 percent accuracy. Application of the risk principle requires matching levels of intensity of treatment with the risk levels of offenders. High-risk offenders require intensive interventions to reduce recidivism, while low-risk offenders benefit most from low-intensity interventions or no intervention at all (Gendreau, P. & Andrews, D.A. 1990).

For more information about What Works, visit one of our GEO Reentry programs or visit with any of our staff. You can read more about the effectiveness of our programming by visiting our Outcomes page.