Predicting Juvenile Offender Recidivism: Risk-Need Assessment and Juvenile Justice Officers

Article excerpt

This study compared the validity of structured versus unstructured risk predictions. Fourteen Juvenile Justice Officers (JJOT) provided 121 risk need inventory assessments for offending youth under community supervision. Using a rating scale (0-10), another group of 20 J JOT provided estimates of reoffending for a different sample of 107 young offenders. Follow-up data from a few months to approximately 2 years were accessed to identify new convictions. Predictive validity analyses yielded marginally higher, but non-significant, differences in favour of the inventory (area under ROC curve = .75 versus .70). Detection indices improved slightly when reoffending status was determined for a subset of male offenders at 15 months post-assessment. It was noteworthy that when risk scores were converted to categorical ranges (low, medium, high), the distribution was significantly different for the inventory compared with the officers. This was due to more high-risk ratings by JJOs compared with more low-risk rating from the inventory and highlights one advantage of the latter approach.

Predicting Juvenile Offender Recidivism: Risk--Need Assessment and Juvenile Justice Officers

Assessing the risks and needs of young offenders has become standard practice in many juvenile justice jurisdictions. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the United States adopted prevention and intervention as the basis for its comprehensive juvenile crime strategy (Coolbaugh & Hansel, 2002; Howell, 1995). A central feature of that strategy involves assessing risk factors and treatment needs which is an approach echoed by many others (Hoge & Andrews, 1996; Day, Howells, & Rickwood, 2004; McLaren, 2000). This widespread juvenile justice strategy reflects some of the same principles (risk, need, responsivity) that have been promoted for 20 years in adult corrections (Andrews, 1991; Andrews & Bonta, 1994) and can be traced to much earlier criminological views (Glueck & Glueck, 1974; Warner, 1923). Assessment inventories for juvenile offenders have been developed to support the risk--need framework in jurisdictions in Canada (Hoge & Andrews, 2003), the United States (Gavazzi et al., 2003; Howell, 1995; Schwalbe, Fraser, Day, & Arnold, 2004), England and Wales (Baker, Jones, Roberts, & Merrington, 2003) and Australia (Thompson & Putnins, 2003).

There are numerous advantages to the systematic assessment of risk and needs using inventories such as those listed above (Hoge, 2002; Thompson & Putnins, 2003). One of the presumed advantages is that future offending is more accurately identified by such inventories and the consequent empirical database than by the idiosyncratic prognostications of juvenile justice staff or clinical experts, for that matter. This argument draws its support from a large body of literature showing that actuarial aggregation of pertinent information matches or betters intuitive judgment when it comes to predicting future behaviours (Bonta, Law, & Hanson, 1998; Dawes, Faust, & Meehl, 1989; Westen & Weinberger, 2004). In spite of the weight of this evidence, predictive validity for any instrument cannot be assumed. Risk-need inventories tend to be developed and adapted in various ways in various jurisdictions and used by staff with differing degrees of training and quality control support (Flores, Travis, & Latessa, 2003).

Studies show that scores produced by risk-need inventories are associated with recidivism for both adult (Waiters, 2006) and juvenile offenders (Jung & Rawana, 1999; National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2000; Risler, Sutphen, & Shields, 2000; Schwalbe et al., 2004). A meta-analysis (Cotde, Lee, & Heilbrun, 2001) of six predictive validity studies (published between 1988 and 1999) dealing with juvenile recidivism found an overall weighted effect size (Fisher's Z) of. 12 (equivalent to a correlation of . …