Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Beyond dynamic risk factors: Towards a comprehensive explanation of offending

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posted on 2021-12-08, 14:50 authored by Roxanne Heffernan

The current conceptualisation of dynamic risk factors (DRF) for criminal offending is problematic. There have been significant conceptual issues highlighted in this domain, however, until recently addressing these has not been a priority for researchers. Instead, research has predominantly focused on the success of DRF in predicting reoffending and the effectiveness of treatment programmes that target these factors. DRF are typically defined as aspects of individuals and their environments that are associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending, and they are widely considered ‘plausible causes’ of criminal behaviour. It is acknowledged that this definition encompasses a wide range of individual characteristics, social processes, behaviours, and environmental features, and that these vary in their ability to explain and predict offending. The more recent interest in features that reduce risk has prompted similar discussions about the concept of protective factors (PF). Given the frequent use of, and interest in, these foundational concepts it is timely to investigate them in depth, and to address two key issues. First, both DRF and PF are broad category labels that encompass a diverse (and largely unspecified) range of psychological and contextual features and processes. Second, without a clear understanding of what exactly these constructs are, it is difficult to effectively link them to correctional research and practice. I will begin this thesis by setting out the problems with the reliance on DRF to explain offending. I will do this by exploring recent empirical findings concerning their relationship with recidivism and outlining numerous conceptual problems which make DRF poor candidates for causal explanation. I will then suggest a shift in focus, from these crime correlates to human nature and agency, and argue that this perspective is essential in explaining any behaviour. I will present a preliminary model based on agency and demonstrate the utility of this perspective in reconceptualising DRF as aspects of goal-directed behaviour. Next, I will develop a framework for continuing this theoretical research and adding depth to theories of agency. Finally, I will discuss the implications of agency theories for forensic interventions, including their integration with widely used rehabilitation models. I will conclude with an evaluation of the approaches developed throughout this thesis and make some suggestions for future research. This research holds promise in directing the field away from the otherwise inevitable theoretical ‘dead end’.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Forensic Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

940408 Rehabilitation and Correctional Services

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Ward, Tony