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APPA: The Foundation and Practical Application of Risk, Need, and Responsivity in the Age of COVID-19 and Urgent Justice Reform

an older man wearing a mask, overlooking the water across from a city

Risk and need assessments have been administered in the criminal justice system for decades but often have not influenced professional decision-making in appropriate ways. Although intended to improve outcomes by matching individuals to indicated services, information derived from these tools has often been ignored or misapplied to increase incarceration rates and unfair racial and ethnic disparities. For example, persons classified as high risk may be more likely to be detained pretrial or to receive a jail or prison sentence, when almost no tools have been developed or validated for this purpose. Most commonly used tools were created to set community-based conditions of treatment and supervision in lieu of detention. Especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and urgent need for criminal justice reform, practitioners and policy makers must understand what Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) is and how it should be applied correctly to enhance both public health and public safety.

The evolution of risk and need assessments can be categorized into four distinct generations. The first generation of risk assessments consisted of unstructured professional judgments made about the likelihood of justice-involved individuals committing future crimes. The second generation of risk assessments added empirically based, actuarial items to predict risk. However, this generation typically lacked a theoretical base and consisted mainly of static items. The third generation of risk assessments introduced a theoretical base and dynamic factors (or crimi­nogenic needs) along with static factors to produce a more accurate picture of the risk to reoffend. Currently, the field has entered into the fourth generation of risk and need assessments. These assessments are no longer used for the sole purpose of predicting crime. Instead, fourth generation assessments now commonly include case-management and intervention strategies designed to target criminogenic need areas and reduce overall risk. (Andrews et al., 2006; Andrews & Bonta, 2010).

Along with different generations, risk and need assessments also focus on different salient risk factors to predict varying outcomes at multiple decision points within the criminal justice system. Law enforcement may use a risk assessment to determine whether an individual may be appropriate for pre-arrest deflection or a citation in lieu of arrest. A pretrial risk assessment seeks to measure the likelihood that a person will fail to appear for court or commit an offense while released, and some evidence suggests the use of such tools is associated with briefer pretrial detention and reductions in racial and ethnic disparities in pretrial release conditions. A post-adjudication risk and need assessment may determine what type of community-based supervision and treatment may reduce an individual’s likelihood of future criminal conduct without the need for incarceration. This workshop session seeks to define the core principles and practical application of RNR, along with strategies to create and maintain critical collaborative relationships to achieve reentry goals.

Training/Learning Objectives:

  • Brief overview of the criminal justice system and the importance of effective reentry practices
  • Understand how common fallacies and misunderstandings about RNR principles have contributed to unwarranted reliance on incarceration and racial and ethnic disparities
  • Learn how proper use of RNR can reduce unfair disparities, enhance criminal justice outcomes, and lead the way to effective and equitable justice reform
  • Demonstrate a practical application of the principles using reintegrating individuals within Multnomah County
  • Describe strategies to create and maintain collaborative relationships to achieve reentry goals
Event Date: 
Thursday 25th February at 9:15am - Thursday 25th February at 10:30am