Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Rearrest (STARR) is a training program for federal community supervision officers providing direct service to clients (that is, offenders under supervision). Its overall goal is to reduce clients’ failure rates and recidivism by training officers to use behaviorally based skills during client interactions. STARR teaches officers about a structured cognitive–behavioral supervision approach that seeks to address dynamic risk factors of clients by improving one-on-one officer–client interactions.
The STARR training program has been made available to community supervision officers in 16 federal districts. Officers primarily have had moderate- or high-risk clients on pretrial supervision or postconviction supervision.
The STARR curriculum was developed with the risk–need–responsivity (RNR) model (Andrews and Bonta 2003; Andrews, Bonta, and Hoge 1990), which has three core principles:
- Risk principle: The level of services should be matched to the level of the offender. High-risk offenders should receive more intensive services; low-risk offenders should receive minimal services.
- Need principle: Target criminogenic needs with services—that is, target those factors that are associated with criminal behavior. Such factors might include substance abuse, procriminal attitudes, criminal associates, and the like. Do not target other, noncriminogenic factors (such as emotional distress, self-esteem issues) unless they act as a barrier to changing criminogenic factors.
- Responsivity principle: The ability and learning style of the offender should determine the style and mode of intervention. Research has shown the general effectiveness of using social learning and cognitive–behavioral style interventions.
Officers in STARR participate in 3½-day classroom training sessions. The training sessions include a discussion of the theory and research supporting the development of the STARR curriculum (including the RNR model), a demonstration of each skill, exercises, and an opportunity for officers to practice each skill and receive feedback.
The STARR skills taught during training include specific strategies for Active Listening, Role Clarification, Effective Use of Authority, Effective Disapproval, Effective Reinforcement, Effective Punishment, and Problem Solving, and for Teaching, Applying and Reviewing the Cognitive Model. Skill cards were developed that outline the specific actions and activities that officers should do to successfully deliver each strategy. Video examples of some of the skills were also presented, while other skills were demonstrated in person. During the training, officers are given the opportunity to practice each skill. For example, after listening to the discussion on reinforcement, officers are asked to identify a behavior and a reinforcement strategy for a specific offender, and then role-play that interaction with another officer.
Officers in STARR also send in audiotaped interactions at designated intervals (one before the training sessions and up to 30 after training is completed). They were to send audiotapes from an initial meeting with a client, another audiotape of an interaction with the client 3 months later, and a third and final audiotape 3 months after that. The audiotapes were used to gain a better understanding of skill development and provide officers with feedback.
Four booster training sessions are held in the year following, to provide officers with additional training on skill deficits identified on the tapes. Booster trainings are delivered by phone and include discussion of specific skills, audiotape examples of the skill, and individual feedback and coaching.
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Officer’s Use of Reinforcement and Disapproval
Robinson and colleagues (2011) found that 34 percent of the officers who went through the Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Rearrest (STARR) used reinforcement and disapproval during one-on-one meetings with their clients (i.e., offenders on parole), compared with 17 percent of the control group (a statistically significant difference). This suggests that trained officers were twice as likely to capitalize on opportunities to use behavioral strategies that could help shape client behavior.
Discussions of Cognitions, Peers, or Impulsivity
Discussions about cognitions, peers, and impulsivity were significantly more likely to occur with clients among officers in the experimental group than among officers in the control group (44 percent of interactions with clients, versus 33 percent, respectively). This shows a significant difference between the groups in how often primary risk factors are targeted (cognitions, peers, and impulsivity have been shown to be some of the strongest predictors of criminal behavior).
Officer’s Use of Cognitive Model
Officers in the experimental group were also significantly more likely to use the cognitive techniques to teach offenders the link between thinking and behavior, compared with officers in the control group (17 percent of interactions, versus 1 percent, respectively).
Failure Rates of Clients
At pretraining, there were no significant differences between the groups in failure rates of moderate- and high-risk clients (39 percent of the experimental group clients and 38 percent of the control group clients). At posttraining, the failure rate for clients in the experimental group decreased to 26 percent and was significantly lower than the failure rate for clients in the control group (34 percent).
When breaking out the failure rates by risk level, there were no significant differences in pretraining failure rates of moderate-risk clients in the experimental and control groups (32 percent versus 31 percent). At posttraining, the failure rate of clients in the control group stayed about the same (32 percent), while the failure rate of clients in the experimental group was significantly reduced to 16 percent. This is an absolute reduction of 16 percent and a relative risk reduction of 50 percent.
For high-risk clients, again there were no significant differences between the experimental and control group failure rates at pretraining (46 percent for both groups). However, at posttraining both groups saw significant reductions in the failure rates of clients (35 percent for experimental group clients and 37 percent for control group clients). Although this difference was significant, it suggests that the STARR skills did not produce any beneficial results for high-risk clients.
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