Our training model is based on: (a) our 31 years of experience assisting former offenders enter the Chattanooga workforce; (b) compelling data that recommend focusing on high risk individuals, addressing needs that correlate with crime, and matching teaching strategies with learning style — known respectively as risk, needs, and responsivity; (c) promising practices around the promotion of “well-being” for returning citizens, and (d) nearly a century of research on the common factors that influence the outcomes of helping services.

Risk, Needs, Responsivity

Contemporary research on recidivism has made one thing crystal clear — repeat crime is an extremely complicated, intensely personal, and highly variable phenomenon. Gone are the days when reentry programs provided a single intervention based on the personal opinions of their organizers.  We know now that effective reentry programs must be tailored to the individual needs and specific realities of returning citizens.

  • The risk principle assumes that the intensity of services should match the relative risk to re-offend. This is true on both sides of the continuum. Too little help for those with a high risk to re-offend is damaging just as too much help for those with a low risk to re-offend.
  • The needs principle assumes that certain needs correlate with criminal activity and others don’t. For a program to have its intended impact it must prioritize each person’s needs and address those first that are the most likely to contribute to future crime.
  • The responsibility principle assumes what we have known for a long time in other disciplines — that everyone learns differently. To get the most out of a service, it needs to be adjusted for the learning style, motivation, and personal characteristics of each returning citizen. Responsivity makes a lot out of cognitive social learning models which we operationalize with peer specialists.

In many ways, these principles are common sense. However, in the course of trying to manage the sheer number of people under correctional supervision in America, an appetite for gaining efficiencies has dominated the industry — which has led to a multiplicity of “one-size-fits-all” models. The risk, needs, responsivity model is both a recognition of the failures inherent in a conveyor-belt approach and a sign that the industry has begun to return to its senses.

5-Key Model

Increasingly, research focused on assessing reentry programs has tied their effectiveness to what has become known as the “5-Key Model for Reentry.” This approach emphasize elements of well-being for returning citizens in their programming – particularly, (a) meaningful work trajectories, (b) healthy thinking habits, (c) positive coping strategies, (d) positive social activities, and (e) positive social relationships.

Common Factors

Nearly a century of research has demonstrated that the effectiveness of change programs has little to do with what distinguishes one approach from another. Instead, what makes them effective is almost all about what they have in common: (a) They address external factors in the life and environment of their participants, which contributes approximately 40% to the variance in outcomes; (b) they build strong helping alliance, which contributes approximately 30%; (c) the technique or model used achieves its stated goal, which contributes approximately 15%, and (d) they create hope or expectancy with their participants, which also contributes approximately 15%.  Both our model and the way we allocate funding aligns with these “common factors.”


The elements summarized above have been combined in an updated and expanded version of our employment in a public-private partnership we call “Nexus.” As the name implies, Nexus is a cross-sectoral collaboration. And as the name further implies, it’s focus is on the moment of release when the interests of the widest range of legitimate agendas intersect. With partners from the criminal justice, human services, employment, academic, and stakeholder communities in Chattanooga, Nexsus attempts to address the combined agendas of all the various stakeholder groups in the value-creating proposition of reentry success.

 Note: Except for Stephen’s Table which is operational, the elements of our reentry model listed here are awaiting funding to be fully implemented. To help out or to learn more, please reach out to us at