Juvenile Justice - Risk Assessment
This study examined the validity, reliability, equity, and cost of nine juvenile justice risk assessment instruments. Though many researchers and practitioners believe that risk assessment is critical to improving decision making in the juvenile justice system, the range of options currently available makes the selection of the most appropriate instrument for each jurisdiction a difficult choice. This study was designed to provide a comprehensive examination of how several risk assessments perform in practice (p. 1). Findings are reported: according to eight risk assessment instruments; and through a comparison of results across jurisdictions and assessments by way of reliability, validity, equity, revised risk assessment instruments constructed in the study, and efficiency and cost. A discussion covers: instruments developed for general use; risk instruments developed for a specific agency; and comments from Advisory Board members and responses from the authors of this report. Risk assessment should be a simple process that can be easily understood and articulated. This study’s findings show that simple, actuarial approaches to risk assessment can produce the strongest results. Adding factors with relatively weak statistical relationships to recidivism—including dynamic factors and criminogenic needs—can result in reduced capacity to accurately identify high-, moderate-, and low-risk offenders (p. vi).
The review suggests that in general, risk assessments do a good job in predicting recidivism across racial/ethnic groups for diverse populations inside and outside the United States. However, there is still some room for improvement concerning the assessment of risk and needs for ethnic minorities. In addition, while there are some studies that do not report the predictive validity of risk assessment scores across race/ethnicity, risk assessments overall seem to be a promising effort to correctly classify and/or identify juveniles who are at greatest risk for future recidivism.
Risk assessment algorithms used in criminal justice settings are often said to introduce “bias”. But such charges can conflate an algorithm’s performance with bias in the data used to train the algorithm and with bias in the actions undertaken with an algorithm’s output. In this paper, algorithms themselves are the focus. Tradeoffs between different kinds of fairness and between fairness and accuracy are illustrated using an algorithmic application to juvenile justice data. Given potential bias in training data, can risk assessment algorithms improve fairness, and if so, with what consequences for accuracy? Although statisticians and computer scientists can documents the tradeoffs, they cannot provide technical solutions that satisfy all fairness and accuracy objectives. In the end, it falls to stakeholders to do the required balancing using legal and legislative procedures, just as it always has (p.1).
If implemented well, a risk assessment instrument can improve allocation of resources and lead to fewer youths being removed from the home or incarcerated, while still protecting public safety. This article briefly describes how to effectively implement a risk assessment instrument in a juvenile justice system and presents research findings on the changes that can result (p. 49). The effective use of juvenile justice risk assessment is explained.
The results from a study of eight risk assessments used for determining which justice-involved youth are low-, moderate-, or high-risk for future delinquency are reviewed. Sections comprising this summary are: introduction; comparison of juvenile justice risk assessment instruments by agency, risk assessment model, and effectiveness; inter-rate reliability testing; validity and equity testing; and implications for practice. Risk assessment should be a simple process that is easily understood and articulated. This study’s findings show that simple, straightforward, actuarial approaches to risk assessment can produce the strongest results (p. 5).
This publication covers: risk and needs assessments limitations, definitions, theoretical foundation, two approaches to administering risk/needs assessments: the actuarial approach and the structured professional judgment approach, examples, and outcome evidence.
The chapters of this Guide detail the purpose and nature of risk assessment, provide definitions of risk assessment concepts, review research evidence, and give step-by-step guidance about how to implement a tool (p. 8).