Magazine article Corrections Forum

Offender Risk Assessment: Tools & Methodologies

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Offender Risk Assessment: Tools & Methodologies

Article excerpt

Predicting offender recidivism with objective actuarial/clinical measures has been gaining momentum in the past few years, as expansive, methodologicallysophisticated research increases, relates psychologist Wagdy Loza.

Today it is rare for correctional professionals to rely solely on clinical judgment and predict recidivism without at least one assessment measure, this expert notes, who is chief psychologist with the Correctional Service of Canada, and professor, Psychiatry, Queen's University, Can. That is in some measure because the evergrowing prison populations and the increased costs to house, educate, treat medical/mental health, proves the need for developing economical measures for prediction of offender recidivism.

Loza explains that the SelfAppraisal Questionnaire (SAQ) is a self-report risk/need measure designed to be multifaceted and to cover the predominant predictive content areas that have been demonstrated to be reliable and valid for the assessment and prediction of post-release offending. The SAQ is based on the view that multi-method/multi-trait assessment improves the prediction of criminal behavior.

The SAQ has also been found to be reliable and valid for use with offenders from different countries/ethnic backgrounds. Individuals from various minority ethnic backgrounds often form a large percentage of the incarcerated offenders in their respective countries of the United States, Australia, and Canada, he says, and some research indicates that there are racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic personality, which is often used for predicting recidivism.

But the results of studies indicate that the SAQ has sound psychometric properties, with reliability and concurrent validity on samples of offenders from Canada, Britain, Australia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Singapore, he relates, which are a cross-validation of ethnicities for the tool.

The ORAS (Ohio Risk Assessment System) is actually a series of tools, qualifies Edward Latessa, professor and director, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati. "The ORAS-PAT (pretrial assessment), is designed to aid the court in determining if someone accused of a crime can safely be released prior to trial. It focuses on two outcomes; failure to appear and new arrests." He furthers: "The ORAS-CST is designed to be used post-conviction and pre-sentence and covers all of the major risk domains. It focuses on risk of reoffending and also gives probation the areas to target should the offender be placed on community supervision. There is also a screener tool," he continues, "and we recently developed the ORAS-MAT which is designed for Misdemeanants. The ORAS-PIT tool is for assessing offenders entering prison and the ORAS-RT is to assess them prior to release. We have two RT tools, one for long-term inmates and one for short-term."

Originally designed for Ohio, a number of jurisdictions have adopted the tools. "Ohio wanted a system that was non-proprietary and that everyone could use," he notes. "In Ohio we also developed a juvenile system: OYAS. It is used across the state and is one of the reasons cited for a significant reduction in the number of youth sent to DYS."

"NCCD has been developing actuarial risk assessments for use in juvenile and adult justice settings since the early 1980s," says Erin Hanusa, senior communications manager, National Council on Crime and Delinquency. "These risk assessments are used by parole and probation departments to guide decisions related to supervisory strategies."

Actuarial risk assessment is by no means a new practice, she states. "This type of risk assessment is based on statistical relationships between individual factors or characteristics and a set of outcomes" like subsequent offenses. To develop an actuarial assessment, large datasets are collected and analyzed. A combination of analyses reveals which factors have the strongest statistical relationships with the recurrence outcomes, she says, and from there, different combinations of these factors are identified and examined to create a risk assessment that most effectively separates a given population into risk groups. …

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