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Risk and Needs Assessment in the Criminal Justice System

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"There have been legislative proposals to implement a risk and needs assessment system in federal prisons. The system would be used to place inmates in rehabilitative programs. Under the proposed system some inmates would be eligible to earn additional time credits for participating in rehabilitative programs that reduce their risk of recidivism. Such credits would allow inmates to be placed on prerelease custody earlier. The proposed system would exclude inmates convicted of certain offenses from being eligible to earn additional time credits ... In general, research suggests that the most commonly used assessment instruments can, with a moderate level of accuracy, predict who is at risk for violent recidivism. It also suggests that no single instrument is superior to any other when it comes to predictive validity" (p. ii). While assessments based on the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model have been quite useful in determining high- and low-risk offenders there is still some controversy regarding the wide-scale use of assessments in the criminal justice system. Sections of this report following a summary include: an overview of risk and needs assessment; RNR principles; critiques of risk and needs assessments-making judgment about individuals based on group tendencies, the separation of assessment of risk from assessment of needs, and the potential for discriminatory effects; and select issues for congress regarding-the use of risk and needs assessment in federal prisons, the exclusion of certain inmates from earning additional time credits, whether priority should be given to high-risk offenders, the use of assessment in sentencing, and whether the emphasis on punishment should be decreased.