What are accredited offender programmes?

Work with offenders on the official list of offending behaviour interventions

Yesterday the Ministry of Justice updated its list of offending behaviour programmes and interventions available for offenders in England and Wales.

Offender behaviour programmes and interventions are designed to change the thinking, attitudes and behaviours which may lead people to reoffend. Most programmes and interventions are delivered in groups but one-to-one provision is available in some circumstances. Some interventions have been delivered remotely during lockdown although one-to-one work has become more common. Offending behaviour programmes encourage pro-social attitudes and goals for the future and are designed to help people develop new skills to stop their offending. These skills include:

  • problem solving
  • perspective taking
  • managing relationships
  • self-management

Offending behaviour programmes often use cognitive-behavioural techniques. There is good international evidence that these are most effective in reducing reoffending. A range of programmes are available both in prisons and in the community for people on probation. They include programmes to address:

  • specific offences, for example sexual offending and domestic violence
  • general patterns of offending behaviour
  • substance misuse related offending


Offending behaviour programmes are all based on three key principles: Risk, needs and responsivity (RNR). The RNR model, currently the leading model of offender assessment and treatment in the world, includes 15 principles, grouped into:

  1. overarching principles
  2. core RNR principles and key clinical issues
  3. organisational principles.

The three core RNR principles are commonly defined as:

Risk is about whom to target, based upon an individual’s likelihood of reoffending. This is important because interventions should match the likelihood of reoffending – rehabilitative interventions should be offered to moderate and high-risk cases, with low-risk cases receiving minimal intervention

Need is about what should be done – identified criminogenic needs should be the focus of targeted interventions, rather than other needs which are not related to offending behaviour

Responsivity is about how the work should be delivered, covering both general and specific responsivity. While general responsivity promotes the use of cognitive social learning methods to influence behaviour, specific responsivity provides that interventions should be tailored to, amongst other things, the strengths of the individual. Supervision skills are an aspect of responsivity.

In short RNR helps practitioners target the right programmes at the right people so that:

  • the level of support provided by a programme matches a person’s risk of reoffending
  • the content of the programme covers the areas a person needs to address to stop further offending. For example, being impulsive or having poor relationship skills
  • the approach is adapted to respond to people’s individual circumstances, abilities and strengths. For example, there are programmes specifically for people with learning disabilities

Effectiveness and accreditation

HMPPS only approves programmes for use if they have been proven to work in reducing reoffending. The Ministry of Justice uses accreditation to provide confidence that a programme is designed based on the best available evidence; will be delivered as intended (programme tutors use a manual with the purpose, exercises and key intended learning points set out in detail); and will be evaluated to show the outcomes that are being met.

Programmes are accredited by the Correctional Services Accreditation and Advice Panel (CSAAP). This is a panel of independent, international experts. They assess programmes against the principles of effective interventions. These principles state that high-quality programmes or interventions:

  • are evidence based and/or a have a credible rationale for reducing reoffending or promoting desistance
  • address factors relevant to reoffending and desistance
  • are targeted at appropriate users
  • develop new skills (as opposed to only awareness raising)
  • motivate, engage and retain participants
  • are delivered as intended
  • are evaluated

Although this accreditation process has been in effect for many years, there are dissenting views. Not everyone within the substance misuse field agrees with the prescribed programmes addressing drug- and alcohol-related offending. There was also a national scandal in 2017 when it was found that sex offenders on the prison version of the accredited treatment programme were found to have a higher proven reoffending rate than a comparison group who didn’t do the treatment.

It will be interesting to see if new programmes are accredited when the probation service is reunified in June this year. Currently there are 14 programmes accredited for use in the community and 22 for use in custody. Interested readers can see the full list here.