Risk Assessment in the Modern Era: National Guidelines for Post-Conviction Risk and Needs Assessment

Summary of Advancing Fairness and Transparency (Desmarais, D’Amora, & Tavárez, 2022)

Logan DiStasio

University of New Haven

Since its inception, risk assessment related to reentry has gone through a variety of advancements. Beginning in the 1920s, risk assessment for individuals returning to the community mainly entailed personal opinions from justice practitioners (Andrews et al., 2006). Before long, advancements in risk assessment utilized static risk factors to help predict future offending. Static risk factors are irreversible details of an individual’s past (e.g., criminal record.). Eventually, risk assessment evolved to include dynamic and needs factors (Andrews et al., 2006). Dynamic factors are traits of an individual subject to change (e.g., current employment). Needs factors focus on the ability to address these dynamic factors successfully. More recently, risk assessment was adapted to be closely interconnected with case management (Andrews et al., 2006). This was done to help optimize assessment and rehabilitation. Advancements in the risk assessment process have built the foundation for tools critical to the field today.

At its core, risk assessment in the context of reentry is dedicated to preventing future recidivism and, more importantly, protecting the community. It is the process of compiling, assessing, and treating factors associated with reoffending. Risk assessment is needed for a variety of reasons. First, it is meant to prevent harm to the community. Reentry is a critical period in the cycle of incarceration – one that often leads to recidivism in the United States (Alper et al., 2018; Durose, 2021). Ultimately, the goal of institutions should be to prevent social harm from occurring, especially during the vulnerable time of recent reentry. Additionally, without risk assessment, there would be a lack of systems in place to suitably treat recently released justice-involved individuals. Matching risk-level and treatment options is the most efficient way to help this population get back on their feet to live fulfilling and law-abiding lives. The absence of risk assessment also would prevent rehabilitation programs from accessing populations most vulnerable to reoffending and, in turn, reduce program effectiveness.

One issue specifically related to post-conviction risk assessment has been an absence of implementation guidance (Tavárez & Albis, 2022). There previously has been a lack of concerted effort to merge risk assessment policy into an overarching set of guidelines. While it is true that geographical location may call for differing risk assessment tools, it also makes it very difficult to determine which tools work best (Hamilton et al., 2016, 2022). Additionally, current institutions may not have particular insight into whether their program is up to national standards. Finally, the use of consolidated guidelines may help forward advancements in risk assessment tools best equipped to evaluate programs in the near future. Evaluation allows for the usage of evidence-based practices designed to consistently update and manage programs currently in the field.

Advancing Fairness and Transparency: National Guidelines for Post-Conviction Risk and Needs Assessment (Desmarais, D’Amora, & Tavárez, 2022) was formulated to address this issue while considering specific geographic fidelity that best fits an institution’s distinct needs. The report provides a concrete set of instructions focused on delivering risk assessment standards to a broad array of audiences, including administrators, researchers, and stakeholders. There are four major objectives outlined in the national guidelines, which include:

  1. To promote accuracy of post-conviction risk and needs assessment instruments
  2. To promote fairness of post-conviction risk and needs assessment instruments
  3. To promote transparency of post-conviction risk and needs assessment instruments
  4. To promote effective communication and use of post-conviction risk and needs assessment instruments results (Advancing Fairness and Transparency: Executive Summary,2022, 3)

Following these guidelines will allow for maximum efficiency pertaining to the use of risk assessment in judgments regarding justice-involved individual’s needs. This will help to diminish the chance of reoffending and recidivism. The systematic process of understanding rules and procedures for adherence provides an invaluable guide toward the ultimate goals of efficiency, treatment, and crime prevention for all risk assessment programs. For further information and to access complete documents on this topic, please visit: https://bja.ojp.gov/program/psrac/guidelines-post-conviction-rna

 

References

Alper, M., Durose, M. R., & Markman, J. (2018). 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-year Follow-up Period (2005-2014). 24.

Andrews, D., Bonta, J., & Wormith, J. (2006). The Recent Past and Near Future of Risk and/or Need Assessment. Crime & Delinquency, 52, 7–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128705281756

Desmarais, S. L., D’Amora, D. A., & Tavárez, L. P. (2022). Advancing Fairness and Transparency: National Guidelines for Post-Conviction Risk and Needs Assessment. Bureau of Justice Assistance - U.S Department of Justice. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://bja.ojp.gov/doc/advancing-fairness-and-transparency.pdf   

Durose, M. R. (2021). Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 34 States in 2012: A 5-Year Follow-Up Period (2012–2017). 34.

Hamilton, Z., Kigerl, A., & Kowalski, M. (2022). Prediction is Local: The Benefits of Risk Assessment Optimization. Justice Quarterly, 39(4), 722–744. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2021.1894215

Hamilton, Z., Tollefsbol, E., Campagna, M., & Van Wormer, J. (2016). Customizing Criminal Justice Assessments. In Handbook on Risk and Need Assessment (1st ed.). Routledge.

Tavárez, L., & Albis, K. (2022, August 29). First-of-Their-Kind National Guidelines Fill Critical Gap to Advance Fairness and Transparency in Post-Conviction Risk and Needs Assessment. CSG Justice Center. https://csgjusticecenter.org/2022/08/29/first-of-their-kind-national-guidelines-fill-critical-gap-to-advance-fairness-and-transparency-in-post-conviction-risk-and-needs-assessment/

U.S. Department of Justice. (2022, August). National guidelines for post-conviction risk and needs assessment. Bureau of Justice Assistance. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://bja.ojp.gov/program/psrac/guidelines-post-conviction-rna#3808jg 

U.S. Department of Justice. (2022, August). Advancing Fairness and Transparency: Executive Summary. Bureau of Justice Assistance - U.S Department of Justice. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://bja.ojp.gov/doc/advancing-fairness-and-transparency-executive-summary.pdf 

 

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash 

 

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