Getting Out and Staying Out! Leaving Prison behind for good.
Knowledge and Management of Criminogenic Risk Factors
By: Toni White, J.D. (Co-Founder and Co-Director of Ascend)
This is the first of a series of articles covering the reasons people re-offend and how they can mitigate that risk. If you have been incarcerated, or have a friend or family member who is in prison or on parole, understanding the risks and how to avoid them is invaluable information.
A key puzzle piece in avoiding a return to jail, prison or probation is knowing how to address the sneaky predictors of crime: Criminogenic Risk Factors.
“Criminogenic risk factors” is a fancy term with a simple definition. Criminogenic risk factors are factors that make a person more likely to commit a crime. There are dynamic and static risk factors. Static risk factors are factors which we cannot change such as age or criminal history. Dynamic risk factors are quite different. Dynamic risk factors are factors that we CAN change. This is where the magic happens!
The subject of criminogenic risk factors is taught to criminal justice researchers, probation and corrections officers and treatment providers. Anyone in the world of re-entry and treatment should know what the term means.
At Ascend, however, we believe that a very important group has been left out. We believe that people who have been through the criminal justice system need to be well versed in the science of criminogenic risk factors; after all – they have the most to lose and the most to gain!
One of the reasons that Christine and I co-founded Ascend is that we wanted to teach people effective ways in which they could unlock the mystery of the dreadful cycle of recidivism (recidivism is the fancy word for “reoffending”.) Christine and I both practice in criminal defense. While Christine has used her law degree to work at the legislature and in other areas of law, I have focused my practice solely on criminal defense for the last 15 years. When I learned about criminogenic risk factors as part of the drafting of the curriculum for Ascend, I was astonished that this information was not made common knowledge in the trenches of criminal defense. The probation officers introduce the concept at sentencing, of course, and the judge may have knowledge of the topic but the attorneys, and more importantly, the clients are not routinely taught the concept of criminogenic risk factors. We changed all that at Ascend. If you are an Ascend student, you will hear about criminogenic risk factors.
Knowledge of the concept of criminogenic risk factors, and methods on how to lower the risk factors, are crucial tools in avoiding re-offending. As such, the people going through the system need to be very well acquainted with the factors so that they can see the big picture and work toward positive change.
What is interesting about criminogenic risk factors is that they are factors that we instinctively know would lead to crime. What was new to me, however, as I learned about criminogenic risk factors, was the concept that there is a LIST and that this LIST of factors is so predictive that it is used routinely in academia, probation departments, jails, prisons and treatment programs. This list of factors is backed by research that has shown it to be reliable. Anyone attempting to avoid a return to jail or prison would be foolish to turn a blind eye to these valuable indicators.
You may be thinking: “Enough suspense, Toni! Tell us the factors!” I just wanted to make sure you were really excited to learn these nuggets of information before I revealed them.
The dynamic criminogenic risk factors that we teach in Ascend are:
- Anti-social network
- Anti-social beliefs
- Family dysfunction
- Drug and/or alcohol addiction
- Poor impulse control
- Lack of career and/or education
Now you have the background and the LIST. In the coming articles, we’re going to take a look at each of these risk factors in detail, so you may have an in-depth understanding of the causes – and solutions- for enjoying a law-abiding life.