Forensic psychology in the dock

'Bad Psychology: How Forensic Psychology Left Science Behind', by Robert A. Forde (Jessica Kingsley; Pb £9.99), reviewed by Dr Adrian Needs from the University of Portsmouth.

This book is clearly intended to be provocative and accessible to a wide readership. The title and style suggest an attempt to be seen in the tradition of publications such as Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science (2008, Fourth Estate). Its central argument is that forensic psychology (prisons and the Parole Board, at any rate) is dominated by procedures for assessing and reducing risk of reoffending that have little or no empirical foundation. It is further argued that the whole enterprise is driven by political and organisational imperatives and maintained by the fallibility of human judgement, inadequate training and defensiveness. Alleged consequences include wasting taxpayers’ money on a grand scale and the injustice of unnecessarily prolonged incarceration. It is recommended that psychologists should not muddy the waters of reliability and validity by the exercise of personal judgement and there should be no straying from procedures supported by rigorous evaluation. One implication is that cognitive-behavioural programmes for addressing complex offence-related behaviour should be abandoned.

Numerous personal anecdotes lean rather heavily on the trope of the voice of reason standing against bureaucracy and vested interests. Resentful reviewers may be tempted to reciprocate by drawing parallels with Robert Martinson (1974), who damaged the field of rehabilitation before publishing a retraction, or even with the author’s near namesake who shot the outlaw Jesse James in the back; I mention these so they don’t have to. Examining where the author may have succumbed to the very heuristics and biases that he criticises in others could be a more productive venture. I hope none of this distracts from the better justified points concerning shortcomings in vision and implementation within the field over the last couple of decades and the Kafkaesque logic that has sometimes attended them. Ultimately, though, I found this book to be disappointing in several respects.

Initially I was intrigued by the author’s conversational style and uncompromising approach towards a questionable orthodoxy that in many ways has been both limited and limiting. To clarify my own direction of travel, I am amongst those who have questioned (e.g. Needs, 2016; Needs & Adair-Stantiall, 2018). As I read on, I became increasingly uneasy at the lack of coverage of existing critiques (there have been many) and this mounted as it became apparent that limited acknowledgement of prior work extends to other key areas (such as the relevance of heuristics and biases). However, it was when I reached the sweeping assertions regarding interventions that I was particularly dismayed by the less than comprehensive use of evidence. I have never been a conventional advocate or apologist for what the author terms the ‘offending behaviour industry’ and to say that the area has a chequered history is an understatement. Nonetheless, we owe it to the reader and the future development of the field to be as accurate and fair as possible. There really is no space to debate this here, but the interested reader could do worse than start with the recent ‘review of reviews’ by Weisburd et al. (2017) and work backwards.

Such considerations caused me to wonder again about the nature of the intended readership. The style is not that of an academic publication but the overuse in places of footnotes sits rather uneasily with a popular work. Also, being a non-specialist is unlikely to confer immunity from the cumulative effects of repetition and occasional sentences that reminded me of the editorials of certain non-broadsheet newspapers. I would not expect everyone to share my frustration at processes involved in life events being reduced to regression to the mean, or developments in improving custodial environments by social means being ignored in favour of token economies and proposals for something that sounds rather like the existing Incentives and Earned Privileges system. Even a prisoner not averse to endorsing a publication that purports to discredit an influential part of the system that holds sway over his life might be confused at this point. In fact I found the pages on future directions the most disappointing of all.

In terms of the evolution of the field the author’s failure to represent important aspects of past, current, emerging or potential practice and associated research could do more harm than the criticisms around which the book is based. If forensic psychology needs to ‘return’ to science, I would urge that there needs to be a debate within forensic psychology about how science is understood and practised. For example, it has been suggested that neglect of context and process can make even randomised controlled trials ‘effectively useless’ (Byrne, 2013). Similarly, failure to think in terms of the dynamics of systems at every level can hamstring the ability of psychologists to engage with them in a productive manner.

If we attempt to locate science precisely where Dr Forde says we left it, we might find that it has moved on.

- Reviewed by Dr Adrian Needs, Principal Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and Registered Forensic Psychologist

Byrne, D. (2013). Evaluating complex interventions in a complex world. Evaluation, 19, 217– 228.
Martinson, R. (1974). What works? Questions and answers about prison reform. The Public Interest, 35, 22–54.
Needs, A. (2016). Rehabilitation – writing a new story. The Psychologist, 29(3), 192–195.
Needs, A. & Adair-Stantiall, A. (2018). The social context of transition and rehabilitation. In G. Akerman, A. Needs & C. Bainbridge (Eds.) Transforming environments and rehabilitation: A guide for practitioners in forensic settings and criminal justice. London: Routledge.
Weisburd, D., Farrington, D.P. & Gill, C. (2017). What works in crime prevention and rehabilitation. Criminology & Public Policy, 16(2), 415–449.

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Jesse James? Adrian Needs rightly says that my book challenges established practices in forensic psychology, and that I am not alone in doing this, but it is hardly assassination. Challenges attract criticism, but (for a reason which will become apparent) I didn't expect quite such vituperation from Adrian.

To take a few of the points: he refers to personal anecdotes, but in a book intended to be accessible to non-psychologists these help to illustrate. They are not the basis of my challenges, which are based on evidence. He also employs an anecdote of his own about a hypothetical confused prisoner. But a criminologist who said he would recommend the book to all his students is an ex-lifer (ie, he had been a real prisoner) and he wasn't a bit confused. Adrian doesn't like the footnotes. Nor I: they were introduced by the publisher. I prefer endnotes. But something was necessary to point interested readers towards published evidence.

Adrian particularly didn't like my comments on interventions. In fact, based on published peer-reviewed evidence available then, I had been predicting the recent results on sex offender programmes since 2005, so this was not off-the-wall stuff. Isn't prediction the test of hypotheses? The really astonishing thing is that these results have not led to a wider questioning of current interventions based on the same principles. I did suggest that other interventions might be more useful, but the fixation with alleged CBT programmes has prevented them getting much attention, so the evidence is limited.

The implication that the evidence was cherry-picked is false. Most of the evidence in this field is of poor quality, which is why one meta-analysis rejected over 80% of papers as being too poor to include (Hanson, Bourgon, Helmus & Hodgson, 2009). Rightly, I think, I concentrated on meta-analyses of good quality. As for scientific method moving on, we need to be careful. Claims that science isn't inclusive enough tend to be raised by those who don't want to accept science. The history of psychoanalysis in a case in point. The fact that even strong research designs can be undermined by circumstances is no argument for using weaker ones. Another straw man is criticising the book for not considering several articles published after it was in production, or even after its publication. As for coverage of heuristics and biases being "limited", Kahneman alone gets 19 mentions and interested readers can go to his popular book (Kahneman, 2012).

A US colleague who liked the book had just one criticism: that I wasn't critical enough. However, I will not be following Martinson in crying that "nothing works", nor in his (actually only partial) retraction. One reason is that, in a BPS conference session where I presented many of the arguments in the book, a UK colleague said that he agreed with "99%" of it. That colleague was Adrian Needs, whose review seems to concentrate on the other 1%, albeit without actually refuting any of the points it makes.

Hanson, R. K, Bourgon, G., Helmus, L., & Hodgson, S. (2009). A Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Sexual Offenders: Risk, Need, and Responsivity. Public Safety Canada. Retrieved from, 24/1/18.
Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. London: Penguin Books.

There seem to be rather a lot of misinterpretations in this response to my review!
Concerning "vituperation", this was not intended nor did I approach the review in such a manner. I didn't say that I was siding with any potential comparisons with the Robert Ford who shot Jesse James or with Martinson. These comparisons had already been made by other people I had spoken to. There seemed a real possibility that some future reviewers, more invested than I am in the "offending behaviour industry" might, as I wrote "be tempted to reciprocate by drawing parallels". I think we can anticipate how some commentators might react - I remember the response from certain quarters to my 2016 article on the "book ban" that touched upon one or two similar issues to those in Robert's book. Also, these kinds of semi-humorous comparisons tend to be made as if nobody else had or would ever have thought of them. (I remember a song about meerkat keepers being driven out of their minds by people saying "simples") and I felt it would be a shame if this kind of thing distracted from the substantive arguments; that's why I said (also semi-humorously) "I mention this so they don't have to". I suppose this demonstrates that it's possible to overestimate an author's capacity for appreciating irony and I apologise for any clumsiness on my part. However, here and elsewhere I would invite Robert to attend more closely to the words I actually used.
The latter point might also be made in relation to anecdotes. I quite agree that anecdotes can help to illustrate. Here the "voice" of the author is certainly more explicit and prominent than in most books but what I questioned was the tone of some of the anecdotes and the way the narrative becomes rather repetitive. I suppose it was inevitable that my review should have been assimilated in terms of what I described as "the trope of the voice of reason standing against the bureaucracy and vested interests", with me now aligned with the latter. (Have this one on me for future use, Robert!) My reference to confusion was primarily over the apparent advocacy of something resembling the Incentives and Earned Privileges system with no discussion that this (which tends to loom rather large in the lives of prisoners) is already in place and throws up problems of its own. Was what I said about a hypothetical prisoner being confused by this an "anecdote"? I wouldn't have said so.
Moving on, as stated I have myself questioned the "questionable orthodoxy" of much current practice. As also stated I became uneasy at the lack of coverage of existing critiques (e.g. Maruna, Crewe, Hough, McNeill - even the paper by Gannon & Ward, 2014, gets only the most cursory of mentions). Although much of the book targets sex offender treatment programmes it was the generalisation of negative conclusions to nearly all interventions (from CBT to therapeutic communities) that caused my unease to grow still further. There are other reviews and what I said was essentially an invitation to the reader to make up his or her own mind by starting with a recent one and working backwards. There is certainly much that needs to be improved or replaced but there are some glimmers of hope that we can work with (I did check several papers - including decent ones - whilst writing the review). Robert seems aggrieved that I cited material that appeared after his own book was published, but my purpose here was simply to give the reader an up to date starting point as recent papers tend to refer to earlier ones; mentioning them was not suggested as a criticism. There is  a need to recognise and address a number of issues that are often neglected in current practice. Other forms of intervention must be part of this but coverage of relevant aspects and possibilities is not a strong point of the book.  
Claims that science isn't inclusive enough may well be made by those who don't want to accept science. However inviting renewed consideration of the nature of science is one way in which science can be developed. Rather than equating this with psychoanalysis I would look to developments over the last few decades in fields such as physics, chemistry, embryology and the study of ecosystems. Much of this focuses on dynamic systems of interacting variables and requires ways of thinking that I would suggest are worth exploring, not least because of the implications for statistical analysis. This is not a weakening of science, but an example of how it moves forward. The point about "straw men" is itself a "straw man" argument.
With regard to limited acknowledgement of previous work concerning heuristics and biases, I'm not quite so blinkered as to have missed the references to Kahneman (although I must confess I wasn't counting). My allusion was to the lack of any mention of forensic psychologists (e.g. Jane Ireland, David Crighton) who have already applied the implications of this literature to the field of risk assessment. (Again, I'd suggest looking carefully at the words I actually used.) On a related point but returning to interventions, criticisms of lack of comprehensiveness don't necessarily imply "cherry picking". An author may simply be unaware of other contributions and I have to say that my cumulative impression was that there were several areas where this seemed to be the case. As a reviewer I could not in good conscience acquiesce with leaving the reader with a rather misleading picture of the landscape; one of the ways in which we can invite further exploration is through giving a more detailed and nuanced idea of what's already out there. 
I did find the review rather difficult to write. I know and like Robert and would not question his honour and integrity. As indicated in the review, there is also much in the book that I agree with (in fact there are places where a wider range of ammunition could have been used). The last couple of sentences of Robert's response, however, are perhaps all too indicative of aspects of the book that I found unhelpful (in some respects the whole response is like a microcosm of the more critical points I raised about the book). To me at least, this final attempt at a flourish seemed a little too tabloid-journalistic, strangely adversarial and I was slightly puzzled by the logic. I guess the occasion referred to was a DFP conference (Cardiff 2012?). I can't remember the exact words I used but I did agree with a great deal of what was said. Yet a single, albeit extended conference session is not quite the same as a whole book, so citing "99%" is not exactly comparing like with like. Sometimes context does matter. Also, many of my comments in the review concern what the book doesn't cover but arguably should; these weren't covered in the conference presentation either but I didn't expect them to be if only for reasons of time. In addition, several areas have developed a bit since then and some new areas have become better established or at least deserve to be explored further. (I'm thinking in particular but not exclusively of initiatives aimed at the interpersonal environments of custodial settings.) 
My concern is with the continued evolution of the field - I've been involved with it long enough, I've worked in some of its most challenging settings and I do care about what my students are moving into. What I wrote was not about points-scoring, still less about defending the status quo. I agreed with some the book but overall I was disappointed by it. I am grateful for this opportunity to elaborate a little upon the above points (I had already exceeded the allocated word limit for the review). 

I don’t want this correspondence to become unduly extended, but there are a couple of points I should make.

First, “Bad Psychology” was never intended to be an academic treatise, and I think that’s pretty clear from the presentation. It was meant to be accessible to non-psychologists, and that is a very different sort of book. Anyone wanting something more academic on the subject of risk assessment specifically could do worse than consult my doctoral thesis on the use of risk assessment in parole decisions for life sentence prisoners (

Second, anyone expecting a programme for the future development of forensic psychology was inevitably going to be disappointed. The point of the book was to challenge the baleful effects on our profession of the offending behaviour industry, and to present evidence concerning those effects, much of which has been available for many years but which has been disregarded and denigrated by those with vested interests.

Adrian Needs refers to “glimmers of hope”, and I agree with him that these do exist. But the offending behaviour industry has not claimed to provide glimmers of hope. If it had, I would never have written the book. On the contrary, it has claimed to provide comprehensive detailed risk assessment which actually means something, and treatment programmes which produce highly significant behaviour change. In the USA one organisation has tried to establish itself as the only source of effective treatment for sex offenders (using methods similar to the discredited SOTP). One UK forensic psychologist used regularly to claim that “we know (sic) that these programmes reduce risk by 50%”. Others have regularly claimed to know what a given PCL-R score means in terms of risk, or that a SARN-TNA gave an understanding of treatment need. All of these claims are false.

The problem is not that good scientific work in these areas did not exist. The problem is that it was ignored in favour of unsound work which better suited practitioners’ preferences. This is still going on. There is no sign that the lessons of the SOTP fiasco have been learned, or that anyone wishes to learn them. Indeed, lawyers who still work in parole hearings tell me that the discredited SARN-TNA is still being presented as evidence in those hearings, although it is supposed to have been dropped. New programmes have been brought in without any pilot schemes to test their effectiveness, only their ease of administration. Unless there is a change of direction, there will be further fiascos, further unnecessary victims, and ultimately forensic psychology will be completely discredited.

I think it deserves better.

I agree that this correspondence shouldn't go on forever. I too condemn the making of false claims along with many of the consequences of the 'offending behaviour industry'. However a major problem is that a reader of the book might be forgiven for thinking that the latter and forensic psychology are one and the same. It's almost as if Ben Goldacre had suggested that the medical profession has little independent existence beyond the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. It was always very evident that the present book isn't an "academic treatise" but the author of a popular work should still be careful about where it's pointed. 

I also don't think that a focus on "practitioners' preferences" gives the whole story. The book doesn't completely neglect organisational factors but these could be elaborated considerably. Former prison governor Shane Bryans in 2000 made a particularly useful contribution with regard to the ethos of public sector management and Barry Loveday (1999, 2000) has written about how the police and Crown Prosecution Service were affected by the outbreak of 'managerialism'. The practice of psychologists in the Prison Service was also shaped by factors such as a rapid expansion in their number that still couldn't keep pace with a rising prisoner population. Partly (but not entirely) because of this a narrowing of focus and roles tended to restrict opportunities for trainees to gain experience in what had previously been regarded as central as well as formative areas of work (see e.g. Needs, 2016). Greater coverage of organisational and historical influences whilst being more specific about what is meant by the 'offending behaviour industry' might have helpful implications for how services and related issues should evolve in the future. Robert's example of the attempted take- over of sex offender treatment in the USA is interesting and might give pause for thought to those who think the term may be a little too redolent of a conspiracy theory. We could also talk of the Prison Service being monolithic (if not monopolistic) whilst some of its personnel have not always been as willing to engage beyond their own agendas as much as some of us would have liked. (I'm beginning to think I may not get a reply to a letter I sent, nearly a quarter of a century ago, concerning how the SOTP might make sex offenders with 'borderline' characteristics - according to Bill Marshall that's " a lot" of them - more likely to reoffend.) Of course such personnel are hardly unique in this but that's part of the point. Although the trope of the 'offending behaviour industry' or attributing self- centred motives to practitioners might add appeal in a book intended for the popular end of the market, they don't add a huge amount to any debate on relevant organisational and cultural processes and how they might be improved. It's a long time since I read it, but a not altogether favourable comparison might be made with another popular work, Norman Dixon's 1976 classic 'On the Psychology of Military Incompetence'; there may even be something to be gained from the infinitely less popular and classic chapter by Needs (2010).

There are signs that in some respects forensic psychology might be entering a new phase of what Kelly (1955) termed the 'creativity cycle': After being immersed in 'preemption' (narrowness and rigidity) the growth of interest in areas such as social climate, strength- based approaches, trauma- informed care and contextual factors in risk assessment might suggest that we are entering a more creative and integrative phase of 'circumspection'. This will present its own challenges (particularly in terms of how we practice science) and there are lessons to be learned from the past. However I wouldn't want such developments to be dismissed out of hand because of the past (or one person's interpretation or incomplete representation of it). If change in a discipline shows some of the same patterns as change in an individual then we might start to think in terms of the need to build new 'attractor states' at the same time as weakening maladaptive ones (e.g. Hayes, Yasinski, Barnes & Bockting, 2015). There are times when criticism needs to be accompanied by genuine alternatives and sometimes these are the most effective (albeit implied) criticisms of all. Of course translating developments into practice usually requires change at the organisational level as well.

The field of forensic psychology does indeed deserve better than a continuation of certain practices and omissions. The irony is that, although there are areas where progress and remedy are indefensibly slow (and like people, organisations don't always react constructively to change) there are other areas where development is happening. This is not necessarily from within the 'offending behaviour industry' (whatever that really is) but then I wouldn't expect it to be. It would be a tragedy, however,  if some members of the 'popular' readership (e.g. prisoners, politicians) felt they were now informed about forensic psychology and psychologists  - past, present and future - after reading this book. 

Green shoots (and some more established growth) deserve better than to be trampled on.    
Adrian Needs
University of Portsmouth
Bryans, S. (2000). The managerialisation of prisons: efficiency without a purpose? Prison Service Journal, 134, 8- 10.
Dixon, N.F. (1976). On the psychology of military incompetence. London:  Jonathan Cape.
Hayes, A.M., Yasinski, C. , Barnes, J.B & Bockting, C.L.H. (2015). Network destabilization and transition in depression: New methods for studying the dynamics of therapeutic change. Clinical Psychology Review, 41, 27-  39.
Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. New York: Norton.
Loveday, B. (1999). The impact of performance culture on criminal justice agencies in England and Wales. International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 27, 1- 27.
Loveday, B. (2000). Measuring performance in criminal justice: an initial evaluation of the application of the New Public Management to criminal justice agencies in England and Wales. In M. Fabri & P.M. Langbroek (Eds.) The challenge of change for judicial systems. Oxford: IOS Press.
Needs, A. (2010). Systemic failure and human error. In C. Ireland & M. Fisher (Eds.) Consultancy and advising in forensic practice: empirical and practical guidelines. Chichester: Wiley – Blackwell.
Needs, A. (2016). Rehabilitation - writing a new story. The Psychologist, 29 (3), 192- 195.

I think the outstanding feature of Adrian’s criticism is that he does not dispute any of the claims I make in the book; indeed he states his agreement with many of them. He has also found the criminal justice system to be impervious to evidence it doesn’t like, witness his anecdote of the letter that has not been replied to in 25 years. Instead, his criticism seems to centre on things that I did not say but that he feels I should have done, including criticisms by others and more positive features of forensic psychology. In the end, people must make up their own minds about that, but I have never claimed that the book was an impartial academic study (if there is such a thing). Nor have I claimed that I was the only person  opposing the current orthodoxy. Indeed I quote several others in the book, e.g.Neal and Grisso (2014), Dror and Murrie (2017) and Hagen (1997).

Neither did I claim that forensic psychology was useless, as Adrian acknowledges. To quote from chapter 1: “my contention is not that psychology in general, or forensic psychology in particular, has no value. Far from it. I firmly believe that it could help us avoid many policy mistakes and take better decisions.” (Page 15). So, if he doesn’t dispute the facts that I present, and he doesn’t think I am rubbishing forensic psychology as a whole, what is Adrian’s criticism really about?

It is interesting that he mentions Norman Dixon’s book “On the psychology of military incompetence” (Dixon, 1976), which I also heartily recommend. I was a student of Dixon’s many years ago and first read the book in the late 70s. Coincidentally, I re-read it a couple of months ago. I had the opportunity shortly after its publication to hear Dixon talk about it and describe the two typical reactions which he had encountered from military personnel. The first was “So what? We knew all this already”, and the second was “How dare you? This threatens the credibility of the entire military system”. It seems to me that Adrian’s reaction to my book approximates to the second. He appears not really to be against its message, but against the effect he fears it might have. Surely this is why he floats the idea that prisoners or politicians might read this book and think they understand all about forensic psychology? Is this really likely? Is it not more an expression of an unwarranted anxiety, especially when applied to a popular paperback which is not likely to be that influential?

But apparently I am the one with unwarranted anxieties, not to say conspiracy theories. In fact, the organisation (the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) which I suggested was trying to monopolise sex offender treatment in the United States has come under severe criticism by American forensic psychologists for doing precisely that. It has a history of trying to influence state authorities to give it undue influence over policy. Here are two quotes (emailed yesterday) from American forensic psychologists:

“In Illinois, the state's ‘Sex Offender Management Board’ …  has apparently adopted the ATSA treatment guidelines and tried to foist them upon practitioners. I critique them routinely.”

“As you know since I took a stand against ATSA about a dozen years ago I have had nothing to do with them. Unfortunately there are colleagues of ours who apparently just can't help but to act as facilitators of bad people and terrible organizations. I am not one of them.”

Perhaps not flirting with “conspiracy theory” after all.

“Bad Psychology” was intended to challenge the current dominance over penal policy by certain groups with vested interests. It was not intended to provide a description of “forensic psychology and psychologists - past present and future”. I think that is very clear from the style of the book. If Adrian feels that it is closer to journalism than to an academic treatise then I am content with that. That is what it was meant to be.



Dixon, N. (1976). On the psychology of military incompetence. London: Jonathan Cape.

Dror, I. E., & Murrie, D. C. (2017). A Hierarchy of Expert Performance Applied to Forensic Psychological Assessments. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. doi: 10.1037/law0000140

Hagen, M. (1997). Whores of the court: The fraud of psychiatric testimony and the rape of American justice. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Neal, T. M. S., & Grisso, T. (2014). The cognitive underpinnings of bias in forensic mental health evaluations. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law (preprint publication online). doi:

In Robert's most recent contribution he has provided further clarification that the book was "meant to be" closer to to journalism than an academic work. As in his first response, he also provides some demonstrations of what sort of journalism this is (as do the 'headlines' for his responses).  The lack of attention to words actually used is apparent once more. For example, I suggested that the information about sex offender treatment in the USA should caution against dismissal that there might be an element of conspiracy. On the other hand, is he equating the machinations described with practice elsewhere (e.g. the UK?). I went on to suggest that moving things on in this country might depend on a more careful analysis and willingness to address more mundane organisational tendencies.
I have never made any secret of my agreement with several of the fundamental criticisms that Robert (and others) have made. I have acknowledged points where I believe there to be a degree of substance, whilst also maintaining that, with regard to evidence, to use Robert's phrase "people should make up their own minds about this" (although he seemed rather unwilling to accept that line of reasoning when I used it previously!). I've appended some additional references to help people in making up their minds. There's a difference between saying there is no evidence and saying that the evidence is not as strong or as consistent as we would like. At least the latter position provides some lessons to build on. For example, the early meta-analyses indicated that interventions in the community give the largest effect sizes. It might be argued that incarceration presents an opportunity to attempt something constructive with prisoners. On the other hand, if environment so clearly matters, why ignore it? In fact there are now several initiatives (none mentioned by Robert) that are seeking to address precisely this area and are in the process of evaluation (see e.g. Harding, 2014). The importance of context (the conditions under which processes occur) is well- established in other sciences. 
I have also mentioned my preference that sweeping negative assertions should be balanced where appropriate by an accurate and representative portrayal of other aspects of a field.  Of course there is a tradition of investigative journalism, where the focus is on exposing the more questionable or discreditable aspects. However, Robert claims to go beyond this and to give an account of alternatives and future directions; although he complained that I'm criticising him for what he hasn't said and never intended to cover, this seems like trying to have it both ways. Responsible journalism seeks to inform and much of Chapter 12, for example, is limited by any standards. 
I will certainly admit to a degree of anxiety when a field I care about is misrepresented in this way. Some 'popular' readers might take it at face value and think that's all there is. Aspects such as the overly- general (but of course supposedly populist) title of the book don't help. (Is this an example of trying to have it both ways again?) With regard to politicians, we do live in times in which (more recently than the 2012 conference that featured in Robert's first response) there was an attempt to restrict prisoners' access to books, in which much of the National Probation Service was dismantled and where 30% of prison officers have been lost since 2010. It is also far from inconceivable that some prisoners might embrace the book's limited vision. Some of the views and experiences that have appeared in Inside Time (the prisoners' newspaper) might definitely be taken as supporting some of Robert's arguments, but a more comprehensive and nuanced account of current and emerging practice might have been less potentially and needlessly destructive with regard to issues such as trust and hope that can have an important influence on therapeutic engagement and effectiveness (see e.g. Ross, Polaschek & Ward, 2008). Of course it could be argued that practitioners with experience in areas of work such as the resolution of hostage incidents may be particularly attuned to anticipating and addressing possible negative outcomes and may therefore be inclined to over- react, but the converse may also be true. It could be that the book sinks due to its own unevenness, or is simply left behind by the developments that Robert ignores and comes to be seen historically as a rather curious aberration. 
 At least, I suppose, the alleged  "anxiety" is a change from "vituperation". However the imputing of feelings or 'motives' to try to undermine an alternative position (isn't that what psychoanalysts are alleged to have done?) extends to Robert's attempt to align me with a "How dare you?" camp. I can honestly say that the only times any such thought crossed my mind was when, in reading the weaker sections, I remembered that he was expecting people to pay for this! But this reading things into others' behaviour is an easy game to play. I could, for example, refer ironically and pointedly to the kinds of characteristics that Norman Dixon associated with incompetence. My recollection is that they included inadequate reconnaissance and consideration of information, rigid self- justification, underestimation of opposing forces and failure to apprehend potential consequences or appreciate modern changes .....
Robert seemed to welcome my anecdote about a lack of response to my letter of around a quarter of a century ago (actually 1994), as I expected him to. (That's another one you can have on me, Robert!) However an important aspect of this is that is was around a quarter of a century ago and the person to whom it was addressed has long since gone to pastures new. I'm not saying things have always been greatly different since. On the other hand I am currently involved in supervising a PhD student who's researching the role of context and interpersonal dynamics of risk assessment interviews (an area with far- reaching, even radical implications for many of the areas that Robert focuses upon). Throughout, senior and other staff on the psychology side of HMPPS and members of the Parole Board have been nothing but efficient and supportive in their facilitation of this work (and no, that's not why I've been critical of certain aspects of the book). The fact is that there are positive developments under way.
Ultimately, the book falls short of the popular standard set by Ben Goldacre, Norman Dixon or even by informative and balanced journalism.
Adrian Needs
University of Portsmouth
Harding, R. (2014). Rehabilitation and prison social climate: Do ‘what works’ rehabilitation programs work better in prisons that have a positive social climate? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 47 (2), 163 - 175.
Ross, E.C., Polaschek, D.L.L, Ward, T. (2008). The therapeutic alliance: a theoretical revision for offender rehabilitation. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 462- 480.
Additional Reading
Broad-based meta-analytic reviews
Andrews, D. A., & Dowden, C. (2005). Managing correctional treatment for reduced recidivism: A metaanalytic review of programme integrity. Legal and Criminological Psychology10(2), 173-187
Lipsey, M. W. (2009). The primary factors that characterize effective interventions with juvenile offenders: A meta-analytic overview. Victims & Offenders, 4, 124-147.
Lipsey, M. W., & Cullen, F. T. (2007). The effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation: A review of systematic reviews. Annual Review of Law and Social Science3, 297-320.
Jolliffe, D., & Farrington, D. P. (2007). A systematic review of the national and international evidence on the effectiveness of interventions with violent offenders. London, England: Ministry of Justice.
MacKenzie, D. L., & Farrington, D. P. (2015). Preventing future offending of delinquents and offenders: what have we learned from experiments and meta-analyses?. Journal of Experimental Criminology11(4), 565-595.
Schmucker, M., Lösel, F., & Schmucker, M. (2017). Sexual offender treatment for reducing recidivism among convicted sex offenders: A systematic review and meta- analysis. Campbell Systematic Reviews8.
Weisburd, D., Farrington, D. P., & Gill, C. (2017). What works in crime prevention and rehabilitation. Criminology & Public Policy16(2), 415-449.
Specific reviews and primary studies of CBT with offenders
Lipsey, M. W., Landenberger, N. A., & Wilson, S. J. (2007). Effects of cognitive-behavioral programs for criminal offenders. Campbell systematic reviews6(1), 27.
McGuire, J., Bilby, C. A., Hatcher, R. M., Hollin, C. R., Hounsome, J., & Palmer, E. J. (2008). Evaluation of structured cognitive–behavioural treatment programmes in reducing criminal recidivism. 
Journal of Experimental Criminology4(1), 21-40.
Pearson, D., McDougall, C., Kanaan, M., Bowles, R. A., & Torgerson, D. J. (2011). Reducing criminal recidivism: evaluation of Citizenship, an evidence-based probation supervision process. 
Journal of Experimental Criminology7(1), 73-102.
Sadlier, G. (2010). Evaluation of the impact of the HM Prison Service Enhanced Thinking Skills programme on reoffending. Outcomes of the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) sample
England: Ministry of Justice.
Tong, L. S., & Farrington, D. P. (2006). How effective is the “Reasoning and Rehabilitation” programme in reducing reoffending? A meta-analysis of evaluations in four countries. 
Psychology, Crime & Law12(1), 3-24.
Wilson, D. B., Bouffard, L. A., & MacKenzie, D. L. (2005). A quantitative review of structured, group-oriented, cognitive-behavioral programs for offenders. 
Criminal Justice and Behavior32(2), 172-204