Classifying and Assessing Offenders: Understanding the Criminal Mind

By Latessa, Edward J. | Corrections Today, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Classifying and Assessing Offenders: Understanding the Criminal Mind


Latessa, Edward J., Corrections Today


There is no "one size fits all" approach. Offender assessment and classification are multifaceted, and often require multiple techniques and tools.

During the past 20 years, there have been important new strides in classifying and assessing offenders. Through the work of many researchers, we have seen the development and refinement of several new instruments designed to measure offender characteristics and predict criminal behavior. Indeed, the evolution of classification demonstrates our progress in this area. As the "gut feeling" assessments gave way to statistical prediction, we enhanced our ability to measure criminal conduct. However, despite these advancements, we still have a great deal to learn about many facets of criminal behavior. For example, there still is much work to be done in distinguishing the different pathways to criminal and delinquent behavior between male and female offenders. Likewise, our ability to predict violent behavior still is in its infancy. Many of the articles in this issue are devoted to these issues and developments.

Assessment and classification improve programs and operations in a number of ways. First, they allow correctional staff to identify offenders' risk of reoffending. This promotes both staff and public safety, and allows correctional agencies to direct services and programs to those who need them most. Second, they allow service and treatment providers to screen out offenders who cannot succeed in a specific intervention. For example, by identifying and screening out low-functioning offenders from programs that require a normal range of cognitive functioning, we can better meet the needs of offenders and improve the effectiveness of programs. Third, by reassessing offenders, we can help determine whether a program has had an impact on an offender's risk. Reassessment of offenders often is neglected, however, without this type of information, we really don't know if the program or intervention changed the risk of the offender. Finally, sound assessment and classification practices help us identify our areas of success, i.e., with whom did we succeed? Once program staff have a better idea of the type of offenders with whom they are best able to work, they can direct their resources in a more efficient and effective manner. …

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