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Risk Assessment in Parole Decision-Making

Criminal justice systems around the world use risk assessment instruments (RAIs). They were developed to predict the statistical likelihood that justice-involved individuals might achieve a specific outcome, like recidivism, based on how similar they are to a sample population. Researchers use sample populations to draw conclusions. These conclusions are then used to create assessment instruments. The instruments are validated or tested for accuracy by using them with people from groups that are similar to the sample population. Once they are shown to deliver reliable and consistent results, RAIs can be used with people who have the same characteristics of the sample population they were validated on. The conclusions from RAIs can be applied to groups of people with the same characteristics, with predictions being strong but not perfect.

That said, paroling authorities make predictions about individuals, not groups. Risk assessment instruments can inform parole decisions, but they are not the only indicators that paroling authorities use. Paroling authorities must assess available information to determine whether someone is suitable for release given his or her circumstances and potential.

This white paper discusses risk assessment within the framework of parole decision-making. It discusses factors beyond RAIs that paroling authorities consider in determining a person’s suitability for parole. It outlines which factors have been empirically established to relate to release success and which ones have not. Lastly, this paper recommends best practices for paroling authorities in their use of RAIs in parole decision-making. This includes an overview of a structured parole decisionmaking approach and its supporting research for paroling authorities.