Denis Yukhnenko, Nigel Blackwood, and Seena Fazel
Noncustodial sentences are the commonest type of court sanction in many countries.1–3 Offender management and rehabilitation programs aim to prevent recidivism and the further criminalization of individuals receiving community sentences.4,5 Although the ultimate goal of these programs is to ensure public safety and to ease the economic burden on justice systems, they assume different rates of repeat criminal behaviors and employ different approaches. The criminogenic needs of individuals (the characteristics of an individual that directly relate to the likelihood of recidivism) are typically broken down into static (nonmodifiable) and dynamic (modifiable) risk factors. Static risk factors are unchanging characteristics of an individual and include gender, age, and prior criminal history. Dynamic risk factors are items that can be influenced or changed during the process of rehabilitation such as employment or substance misuse problems.
Both static and dynamic risk factors are taken into consideration during risk assessment and intervention planning.6 Static risk factors are strong predictors of future offending behavior, but are, by definition, poor targets for intervention. Moreover, one criticism of many risk assessment approaches is their over-reliance on static risk factors and a failure to take time and change into account, although this will need to be linked to effective interventions.7 Taking into account dynamic factors and their change over time may improve the accuracy of risk assessment.8 It is also important to study dynamic risk factors for recidivism in community-sentenced populations separately from released prisoner populations. Community sentences are often given to individuals who committed a minor offence, first-time offenders, and other categories considered “low risk.” They may also include offenders with better legal representation. Therefore, for individuals serving a community sentence, certain risk factors may be more or less predictive than in released prisoners, or they may operate through different pathways.
However, many individual studies that examine risk factors for recidivism in community-sentenced populations focus exclusively on static risk factors, typically offenders’ demographics and prior contact with justice systems.3,9,10 This is limited given that, when assessed using standardized diagnostic tools, community-sentenced populations show a higher prevalence of dynamic risk factors such as psychiatric disorders and misuse of illicit substances11 in comparison to the general population. In addition, prior meta-analyses that have investigated risk factors in community-sentenced populations either examined mixed samples of released prisoners and community-sentenced individuals12,13 or looked into narrow subpopulations of community-sentenced individuals, for example, sexual offenders14 or offenders in forensic psychiatric treatment.15
In the present study, we examined both static (nonmodifiable) and dynamic (modifiable) risk factors for recidivism in 246,608 individuals receiving community sentences. To the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first meta-analysis that examines risk factors for criminal recidivism in a general adult community-sentenced population.