How to Identify Criminogenic Needs

Understanding criminogenic needs and the role they play in an individual’s reentry journey can significantly affect their success, while helping to reduce recidivism. Research1 indicates that quality interactions with clients is a greater indicator of their success than frequency of client contact. Getting to the root of your clients’ issues can be the difference between them simply complying with their probation or parole and truly changing their behavior.

What Are Criminogenic Needs?

Criminogenic needs can be defined by the characteristics, traits, problems, or issues an individual faces that are directly related to their likelihood of reoffending. Criminogenic needs are also referred to as key life areas. Research2 has found that there are eight criminogenic risk factors that are associated with criminal behavior.

Antisocial Cognitions

The first criminogenic need refers to the attitudes, values, and beliefs an individual holds that are against society norms or are pro-criminal. An individual with these attitudes will usually lack self-management of behavior, empathy, and sensitivity toward others.

As an officer, you may reduce this risk in your client by helping them recognize risky thought patterns and feelings and working with them to build alternative thinking and feelings.

Antisocial Associates

Who an individual spends their time with can affect their likelihood of committing a crime. Being isolated from prosocial people and having close relationships with those who engage in or encourage criminal behavior puts an individual at risk.

Supervising officers may help clients reduce this risk by having them identify the connection between who they spend time with and their tendency to get into trouble. Then, work toward helping them build positive relationships with prosocial people.

Behavior Characteristics

Characteristics such as adventurous, pleasure-seeking, weak self-control, impulsivity, aggression, and poor decision can be a risk factor for committing crime. Individuals with these temperaments are more prone to make reckless decisions.

Officers may reduce this risk factor by working with clients to develop problem-solving skills and healthy decision-making. Assigning a client to anger management classes, if needed, is also a viable option.

Criminal History

Criminal history is the only static criminogenic need, meaning that it cannot be changed. However, it is still important be aware of the client’s history including the age that it began, the settings where it took place, and the types of criminal acts.


The relationships an individual has with their immediate family may be a risk factor when they are shown low levels of affection, have poor parental supervision, face neglect and abuse, or have poor role models throughout childhood. Having positive relationships with family decreases the likelihood of reoffending as family can provide necessary emotional support, and these relationships may help facilitate behavior change.

Officers may help clients reduce this risk by guiding them on how to learn and implement healthy boundaries, build communication skills, and involve the family in treatment if possible.


Having low levels of education or employment may cause individuals to feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled with their lives, leading them to make poor decisions. Limited education or lack of employment can leave individuals with more unstructured free time and low financial means, which could lead to risky behavior.

Supervising officers may reduce this risk by helping clients gain the skills they need to be successful in education and with obtaining and maintaining employment. Guide your clients toward the right path and provide them with resources—it can make all the difference.


Leisure and recreation as a risk factor refers to the activities an individual enjoys during their free time. If an individual does not have any or limited prosocial activities they enjoy, they might spend their free time in negative ways.

Officers may help clients by discussing the importance of prosocial activities and having them identify different prosocial activities in which they can participate.

Substance Use

Illegal drugs typically cause individuals to engage in antisocial activities or spend time with antisocial people. Being under the influence also results in poor decision making.

Reducing this risk factor may include helping your client find a support network or enrolling in treatment, if necessary. Identifying prosocial replacements for substance use is also key to reducing this risk factor.

Tools & Resources to Reduce Criminogenic Risk Factors

Once you determine the most influential criminogenic need(s), you can help guide your client toward a better path. Often times the most influential need is driving other criminogenic needs. By addressing the driver, you can have the biggest impact on reducing risk factors. It is also important to note that each need may look different for each client. For example, family/marital may show up as a need when one has a family in a gang, and they are expected to follow the same path. It may also show up as a need when someone has a family that is not loving or supportive, even though they are not involved in crime.

Fortunately, there are many resources and tools available to help clients overcome these key life areas. Become familiar and comfortable with the resources available, and choose an intervention based on what is best for the client. Some that are easy to implement and have demonstrated positive results include:

  • Behavior pads from The Change Companies. These tear sheets can be used to help clients with a variety of challenges. Topics include decisional balance exercises, behavior checks, action checks, thinking checks, readiness to change, etc. The Change Companies also offers digital curriculum and interactive journals that cover anger management, responsible decision-making, healthy relationships, and more.
  • The Carey Group is another resource with great tools for officers to use with their clients, such as Brief Intervention Tools (BITS), which covers six behaviors including decision making and with whom an individual spends time. The Carey Guides go more in-depth with research, context, and cognitive behavioral handbooks that specifically address each criminogenic need and common case management issues.

As an officer, when you help your client target one or more of their criminogenic needs, you can make a huge difference in their reentry success, while enhancing public safety.

1Bonta, James & Rugge, Tanya & Scott, Terri & Bourgon, Guy & YESSINE, ANNIE. (2008). Exploring the Black Box of Community Supervision. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. 47. 248-270. 10.1080/10509670802134085.

2Van Deinse TB, Cuddeback GS, Wilson AB, Edwards D Jr, Lambert M. Variation in Criminogenic Risks by Mental Health Symptom Severity: Implications for Mental Health Services and Research. Psychiatr Q. 2021 Mar;92(1):73-84. doi: 10.1007/s11126-020-09782-x. PMID: 32458340; PMCID: PMC7957914.

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