Academic journal article Federal Probation

Does the Risk of Recidivism for Supervised Offenders Improve over Time? Examining Changes in the Dynamic Risk Characteristics for Offenders under Federal Supervision

Academic journal article Federal Probation

Does the Risk of Recidivism for Supervised Offenders Improve over Time? Examining Changes in the Dynamic Risk Characteristics for Offenders under Federal Supervision

Article excerpt

OVER THE PAST TEN years, the United States federal probation system has undergone numerous conceptual and structural changes in moving toward an outcome-based approach that emphasizes crime reduction (Alexander & VanBenschoten, 2008; IBM Strategic Assessment, 2004). In 1925 the Federal Probation Act gave the U.S. Courts authority to appoint federal probation officers with responsibility for supervising offenders sentenced to a term of straight probation or paroled from federal prisons or military authorities (U.S. Courts, 2014). After the abolishment of federal parole in 1984, probation officers became responsible for supervising offenders for a period of time (usually two to three years) following the expiration of their incarceration term (Judicial Policy Guide, 2012; Latessa & Smith, 2011).

In the early 2000s, the federal probation system underwent a comprehensive strategic assessment. The report emerging from that assessment recommended that the system be guided by outcome-based measures (IBM Strategic Assessment, 2004). Following this strategic assessment, a working group within the U.S. Courts developed policies that laid the groundwork for transforming the post-conviction supervision system. Through the guidance of this working group, one of the primary outcomes of federal supervision was defined as the protection of the community through the reduction of risk and recurrence of crime (that is, recidivism), both during and after an offenders supervision period (Hughes, 2008). To meet the key goal of recidivism reduction, three major principles had to become guiding tenets of federal probation: Officers should work most intensively with high-risk offenders (the risk principle), focus on the criminogenic needs of higherrisk offenders (need principle), and match treatment modalities with the ability and learning styles of offenders (responsivity principle) (Lowenkamp, Johnson, VanBenschoten, Robinson, & Holsinger, 2013; AOUSC, 2011; Andrews & Bonta, 2010; Van Voorhis & Brown, 1996; Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990).

The U.S federal probation system has attempted to embrace the use of the risk, needs, and responsivity model (hereinafter referred to as the RNR model) for supervising offenders with the aim of reducing recidivism and protecting the general community. Crucial to adopting the RNR model was implementing a risk assessment instrument that contained both static (e.g., characteristics that do not change over time such as criminal history) and dynamic (e.g., characteristics amenable to change, such as substance abuse problems) risk factors to accurately identify offenders most likely to commit new crimes and ascertain criminogenic characteristics that, if changed, could reduce the likelihood of recidivism (Lowenkamp et al" 2013; Andrews & Bonta, 1998). This instrument would also have the capacity to assess whether the effective application of treatment might be hindered by responsivity issues such as offender intelligence, levels of anxiety, mental health disorders, transportation difficulties, or child care issues (AOUSC, 2011). The implementation of the federal Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) instrument represents one of the primary efforts to integrate elements of the RNR model into the U.S. probation system.

The PCRA is an actuarial risk assessment tool developed for the federal probation system that identifies offenders most at risk of recidivism, ascertains which dynamic criminogenic needs should be addressed, and provides information on those obstacles that would prevent the successful implementation of a supervision and/or treatment regime (AOUSC, 2011). Because probation officers required training before they could utilize this actuarial risk tool, the PCRA was implemented in stages starting in 2010. Presently, the PCRA has near-universal implementation throughout the federal system, with more than 95 percent of offenders released to supervision over the past 12 months having a PCRA assessment (Decision Support Systems, #1009). …

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