Back to top

Risk needs assessment

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).

The Community Corrections Collaborative Network (CCCN) is a network comprised of the leading associations representing 90,000-plus probation, parole, pretrial, and treatment professionals around the country, including the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), the Association of Paroling Authorities International (APAI), the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA), the International Community Corrections Association (ICCA), the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), and the National Association of Probation Executives (NAPE).

This "Myths & Facts" package includes a one-page list of myths and facts along with a research-based supporting document to help dispel three specific myths regarding the use of risk and need assessments within the criminal justice system. A description and relevant research to dispel each myth is provided. Our network believes that risk and need assessments currently provide the most accurate, objective prediction of the risk to recidivate. While risk and need assessments do not predict with perfect accuracy, they guide practitioners in the field towards the most accurate and equitable decisions available for safely managing justice-involved individuals.

Myths & Facts Cover

The Community Corrections Collaborative Network (CCCN) is a network comprised of the leading associations representing 90,000-plus probation, parole, pretrial, and treatment professionals around the country, including the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), the Association of Paroling Authorities International (APAI), the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA), the International Community Corrections Association (ICCA), the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), and the National Association of Probation Executives (NAPE). This "Myths & Facts" package includes a one-page list of myths and facts along with a research-based supporting document to show the effectiveness of community corrections. This is not to suggest that prison does not play an important role in the continuum of criminal justice, but that incarceration is not always the best way to keep communities safe, or to break the cycle of criminal behavior, reduce recidivism or to save tax payer dollars. Our network believes that each of the points in the continuum play a vital role in keeping our communities safe and that we must better understand through evidence-based research and science when to use incarceration and when community corrections might be more effective.

Myths & Facts  Cover

Following a review of the available research regarding pretrial risk assessment instruments being used in other jurisdictions, the Committee decided that "it would be preferable to develop a customized pretrial risk instrument that incorporated all of the positive attributes of these risk instruments but had the advantage of being tested and normed on defendants being released in Nevada" (Final Report, p. 1). This collection of documents explains how the Nevada Pretrial Risk Assessment (NPR) was developed. Access is provided to: Nevada Pretrial Risk Assessment (NPR)--Draft; NPRA Validation Report and Final NPRA Tool [Development of the Nevada Pretrial Risk Assessment System Final Report]; and Volume One, Two, and Three containing background reports and information about other types of risk assessments used in the United States. Documents are organized into the following areas: Volume One--The Need for Reform of Pretrial Release, Validated Pretrial Risk Tools, and Pretrial Risk Tools Overviews and Validation Studies; Volume Two—Risk and Needs Tools, Pretrial Reform Collateral Issues, and Pretrial Standards and Implementation Guidelines; and Volume Three—Pretrial Standards and Implementation Guidelines

Nevada Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument (NPR) Documents cover

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 identification of “federal criminal defendants who are most suited for pretrial release without jeopardizing the integrity of the judicial process or the safety of the community, in particular release predicated on participation in an alternatives to detention program” is investigated. Sections following an executive summary include: introduction; population description; research objective one -- pretrial risk classification; research objective two -- risk levels, release and detention rates, and pretrial failure rates; research objective three -- alternatives to detention, risk levels, and pretrial failure; research objective four -- efficacy of the alternatives to detention program; research objective five -- current risk assessment practices; and research objective six -- best practices for pretrial risk assessment and recommendations.

Pretrial Risk Assessment in the Federal Court for the Purpose of Expanding the Use of Alternatives to Detention Cover

One way to unwind mass incarceration without compromising public safety is to use risk assessment instruments in sentencing and corrections. Although these instruments figure prominently in current reforms, critics argue that benefits in crime control will be offset by an adverse effect on racial minorities … we examine the relationships among race, risk assessment (the Post Conviction Risk Assessment [PCRA]), and future arrest.

Risk, Race, & Recidivism Cover

No program or intervention can be expected to work for everyone. Providing too much or the wrong kind of services not only fails to improve outcomes, but it can make outcomes worse by placing excessive burdens on some participants and interfering with their engagement in productive activities, like work or school. This is the foundation for a body of evidence-based principles referred to as risk, need, responsivity, or RNR (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). RNR is derived from decades of research demonstrating that the best outcomes are achieved in the criminal justice system when (1) the intensity of criminal justice supervision is matched to participants’ risk for criminal recidivism or likelihood of failure in rehabilitation (criminogenic risk) and (2) interventions focus on the specific disorders or conditions that are responsible for participants’ crimes (criminogenic needs) (Andrews et al., 1990, 2006; Gendreau et al., 2006; Lipsey & Cullen, 2007; Lowenkamp et al., 2006a, 2006b; Smith et al., 2009; Taxman & Marlowe, 2006). Moreover, mixing participants with different levels of risk or need in the same treatment groups or residential programs has been found to increase crime, substance use, and other undesirable outcomes, because it exposes low-risk participants to antisocial peers and values (e.g., Lloyd et al., 2014; Lowenkamp & Latessa, 2004; Lowenkamp et al., 2005; Welsh & Rocque, 2014; Wexler et al., 2004).

Despite compelling evidence validating these RNR principles, many behavioral health and criminal justice professionals misconstrue the concepts of risk, need, and responsivity, leading them to deliver the wrong services to the wrong persons and in the wrong order. Even with the best of intentions to follow evidence-based practices, many programs inadvertently waste precious resources, frustrate consumers, and deliver lackluster results. To enhance program effectiveness and efficiency, it is necessary to translate these research-based principles into terms that are familiar to many practitioners, to help them select the most appropriate interventions under the right circumstances. 

Many community supervision agencies use a risk/need assessment tool (RNA) to assess client risk level, inform case planning decisions, and allocate supervision resources. Research suggests agencies do not always implement RNA tools as intended, without offering practitioners solutions for improving these implementation concerns. Using a participatory action research framework, this case study highlights one probation office's efforts to improve their RNA fidelity concerns by using Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA), a data driven problem-solving strategy. Findings show increases in officer knowledge and comfort using the RNA, while revealing gaps in training, dissemination, and the underlying premise for the tool in practice. Results offer guidance for researchers and practitioners in developing collaborative and problem-solving research agendas to enhance the fidelity of evidence-based practices.

Subscribe to Risk needs assessment