Offenders: A framework for managing risk and meeting needs

Dr Astrid Birgden1

1Consultant Forensic Psychologist, Just Forensic, Melbourne, Australia, 2Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor, Melbourne, Australia

Offenders have human rights. Therefore offenders are both rights-violators and rights-holders requiring legal actors as duty-bearers to balance managing offender risk with meeting offender need. From a therapeutic jurisprudence perspective, offender rights can be met through the law, correctional procedures, and the role of correctional staff as legal actors. In terms of the law, human rights are prescribed in various UN instruments but prisoners are rarely mentioned and both US and Australian courts have had a “hands-off” approach to prison administration. In terms of procedures, correctional staff are to adhere to the (outmoded) Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia 2004 but the stated goals are to be strived for rather than enforced.  In terms of roles, the message regarding the community-offender balance is subsequently confusing for correctional staff.

Dr Birgden will propose a framework that balances offender risks and needs using examples in policy development and service delivery in the correctional and forensic disability systems. The framework proposes a model that addresses both habilitation (in meeting needs) and rehabilitation (in managing risk). The framework proposes a set of guiding principles and practical strategies for assessing, treating, and managing offenders to enhance community reintegration.


For 30 years Astrid has developed policy and managed service delivery to clients in problem solving courts (family violence court and drug court), disability services (forensic disability clients) and correctional services (sex offenders and drug-related offenders). Astrid established and managed the interagency Compulsory Drug Treatment Correctional Centre in Sydney, which is based on a humanistic model.  She has delivered training through the AIJA and AAT NJC regarding engaging defendant behaviour change from the bench. On an international basis, Astrid was involved in a torture prevention project with police and military in Sri Lanka and Nepal, delivered training regarding offender rehabilitation to prison officers and counsellors in St Kitts/Nevis in the Caribbean, designed a Community-Police Mediation Program in New Orleans, and was a moderator for a National Institute of Canada online course for judges regarding problem solving courts. Since 2000, Astrid’s work has been guided by the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence; in 2000 she studied with Professor David Wexler at the University of Puerto Rico and more recently has completed a Masters in Advanced Mental Disability Law through New York Law School. She is published in therapeutic jurisprudence, offender rehabilitation, and human rights.

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