Risk-Need Assessment Inventories for Juvenile Offenders in Australia

Article excerpt

Assessment of the risks and needs of juvenile offenders is widely accepted as fundamentally important in juvenile justice. We describe two inventories that are being used in Australian settings to systematically undertake such assessment: (a) the Secure Care Psychosocial Screening (SECAPS) assessment (Putnins, 1999a), and (b) the Australian Adaptation of the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (YLS/CMI-AA; Hoge & Andrews, 1995). The conceptual, empirical and practical background for these instruments is provided. We report on the development and current status of the inventories. Advantages of structured assessment of risks and needs are highlighted, as are several caveats that deserve consideration.


Juvenile crime perennially occupies a prominent place on the sociopolitical agenda. Psychologists have been leading contributors in the effort to understand and respond to juvenile crime. On the direct service front, psychologists undertake assessment and treatment for young people in trouble with the law in a variety of settings. Notably, psychological services are offered through children's court clinics, adolescent forensic health units, and in the community offices and detention centres of government departments of juvenile justice. However, psychologists are also conspicuous in the research literature. In a human service field hungry for sound practice and policy initiatives, the theoretical and empirical skills of psychologists are frequently welcomed (Hawk, 1997). One such area is the conceptualisation and implementation of risk assessment. In this article, we elaborate the philosophical, theoretical, empirical and practical underpinning of risk assessment in juvenile justice. Then we provide an account of contemporary risk assessment inventories that have been developed and deployed in Australian juvenile justice settings.

Defining Risk

The concept of risk is used in two related ways when thinking of juvenile crime. First, risk refers to the overall likelihood that a young person will engage in criminal behaviour (risk of offending or risk of reoffending). Second, risk may be used to describe the specific conditions and circumstances that are associated with offending (risk factors). Judgements of risk are commonplace within the juvenile justice system. Such judgements are essential to decision-making across the full spectrum including prevention, adjudication, disposition, intervention and supervision (Hoge & Andrews, 1996). Judgements of overall risk should be based on consideration of constituent risk factors. In essence, the process involves delineating the risk factors, determining which exist for a particular young person and deriving an overall risk rating proportionate to the number and magnitude of risk factors evident. Overall risk estimates inform decisions about the degree of protection that should be afforded society when young persons are disposed to criminal behaviour. Constituent risk factors inform decisions about guidance and assistance that can help juveniles avoid crime.

Empirical Foundation for Risk Assessment

There is a wealth of research on risk factors associated with juvenile offending. Half a century ago, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck identified numerous risk factors that are pertinent even today (Glueck & Glueck, 1952). The Gluecks' analysis focused on variables that discriminated between delinquent and nondelinquent youth. Correlates of juvenile crime determined in this fashion are considered potential causal factors for juvenile offending. The cross-sectional, comparison group method has been repeated scores of times since the Gluecks' classic study. In addition, correlates of juvenile crime have been identified in longitudinal studies. Reviews of this large empirical body of literature consistently conclude that juvenile crime is multi-determined and the same major risk factors emerge (Durlak, 1998; Farrington, 2002; Lipsey & Derzon, 1998; McLaren, 2000; Rutter, Giller, & Hagell, 1998; Simourd & Andrews, 1994; Tolan, Guerra, & Kendall, 1995a). …