The Risk-Needs-Responsivity approach

April 2023


The Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) approach is an evidence-based intervention for youth who engage in delinquent behaviors. It is centered on the principle that the risk factors and needs of the youth should determine the appropriate strategies for addressing the factors that underline the delinquent behavior. The RNR approach focuses on rehabilitative interventions that target dynamic factors known to contribute to delinquent behavior. The approach is based on three key principles: risk, need and responsivity.

Key principles of RNR:


The level of service should match risk of recidivism. Higher risk youth should receive more intensive intervention than lower risk youth.


Needs should be identified and targeted for treatment. High-risk youth should receive intensive treatment, while low-risk youth should receive minimal or no treatment.


Interventions should be rehabilitative and tailored to learning styles, motivations, abilities, and strengths of the youth. They should address issues that affect responsivity (e.g. mental illness)

research iconResearch has shown the RNR approach to be effective at reducing recidivism among youth and at increasing chances for success. It has also been proven to be a cost-effective approach with positive impact on public safety.


Determining a youth's risk level

Research supports that youth are less likely to re-enter the legal system if the level and type of services provided are proportional to their risk level. A risk assessment is a tool used for assessing an individual's probability for re-entering the legal system. 

Risk assessments are validated through research and evaluation methods to ensure that they measure a broad range of risk factors known to contribute to delinquent behavior. They also assess personal factors, family circumstances, and strengths that influence treatment success and reduced recidivism.

There are a variety of validated risk assessment tools currently in use by many state and local jurisdictions throughout the United States (e.g. the Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI) and the Youth Level of Service (YLS) assessment).


Dynamic vs. static risk factors

Dynamic risk factors 

Factors that contribute to recidivism that are amenable to change through appropriate interventions and support. Examples include:

  • Antisocial values/beliefs
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Increased anger and defiance 
  • Lack of empathy/emotional regulation 
  • Anti-social peers 
  • Isolation from pro-social peers 
  • Poor school or work performance 
  • Substance use 
  • Family dysfunction (e.g. criminality, psychological problems, abuse/neglect)

Static risk factors

Factors that contribute to recidivism are not amendable to change through treatment. Examples include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Prior court involvement 
  • Address and living environment
  • Economic circumstances 


  • References
    • Bonta, James and Andrews, D.A. (2007). Risk-need-responsivity model for offender assessment and rehabilitation. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada, June. Available at:
    • Latessa, Edward J., Cullen, Francis T., and Gendreau, Paul. (2002). Beyond correctional quackery: Professionalism and the possibility of effective treatment. Federal Probation 66(2): 43-49.