1. Risk Factors Present in Offender Risk Assessments.
Community correction agencies are increasingly becoming dependent on risk assessments in calculating the likelihood that an offender may re-offend.
This trend is evident because of the increased cases of offences that necessitate the urgency in the development of quick risk assessment methods. These risk factors are categorised into static and dynamic factors. The latter category refers to historical factors that do not frequently fluctuate such as gender, marital status, and the number of previous arrests. On the other hand, the former category refers to risk factors that can easily fluctuate in a short time and include substance abuse, mental health and criminal peers. In this section, risk factors that are severally present in offender risk assessments are discussed and include; the number of previous arrests, substance abuse, and mental health (Murray, 1998).
1 Previous arrests/ Criminal Past
According to relevant sources, the criminal past of an offender is the best indicator that the offender may re-offend (Murray, 1998). For instance, an offender with a single past criminal offense is approximately 39% more likely to commit another offense in the future. On the other hand, an individual with five past offenses is approximately 59% more likely to commit another offense (Lind, 2009). When an offender enters a correctional facility, the likelihood to re-offend increases; thus, the need to implement rehabilitation programs becomes inevitable.
1.2 Substance abuse
Approximately 80% of state and federal inmates are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, or have a past associated with alcohol or drug abuse. When offenders linked with substance abuse are sent to community supervision, the cycle tends to repeat itself (Murray, 1998).
For instance, 30% of offenders show evidence of drug abuse within the first four weeks of release from correctional facilities, (Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy, 2008).
1.3 Mental health
Another risk factor that is included in most offender risk assessments is the mental health of the offender (Murray, 1998).
Relevant sources show that several offenders commit offences as a result of some form of mental illness. In June 2008, for example, 31% of all incarcerated adult offenders were discovered to be suffering from mental disorders. It has been established that offenders suffering from serious mental disorders have a rate of recidivism of 46% (Lind, 2009). As such, the risk factor is introduced to help in determining the offender sentencing process.
How Community Correction Agencies use Risk Assessments.
Depending on the nature of the offence, prior convictions, drug abuse, and other risk factors, community correction agencies apply various risk assessment procedures. The methods used are classified into actuarial instruments and clinical guides. They were designed to assist supervision staff in correctional facilities to address need factors, for example, high-risk offenders are put under more supervision than low-risk offenders. In this section, the methods by which community correction agencies use risk assessments are described below.
1 Pre-sentence Reports.
Community correction agencies (CCA) use offender risk assessments to prepare pre-sentence reports (PSR) used by the courts in sentencing. As such, PSR reports give the offender risk information that aids courts in establishing the appropriate sentences (Bonta, Bourgon, Jesseman, & Yessine, 2005).
For instance, probation officers prepare PSR’s for high-risk offenders including their appropriate treatment recommendations. As compared to high-risk offenders, low-risk offenders may have less severe PSR with better treatment recommendations that would result in less severe sentences by the courts of law.
2.2 Inmate Classification.
By the aid of a Classification Officer, inmates are interviewed and assessed in order to determine the housing assignments and custody status. The final assessment is reached at through critical scrutiny of past criminal records, inmates file and the initial interview session. “Out of the assessment, inmates can be assigned to any of the custody levels that include: Maximum Pretrial or Sentenced, Medium Pretrial or Sentenced, or Minimum Pretrial or Sentenced” (Baltimore County, 2011). This defines the level of prison security at which the inmate will be put under which are; maximum security, medium-security and minimum-security respectively.
Maximum-security prisons consist of closely monitored single cells while medium-security prisons consist of secure hostels supporting a maximum of 50 inmates each. Lastly, minimum-security prisons consist of unsecured hostels that correctional officers make planned visits to check for safety.
2.3 Identification of Appropriate Programs/Supervision
Community correction agencies conduct needs assessments on offenders to enable easier identification of the best programs that would effect change of behavior. Some of the items that are addressed during these assessments include; offender’s substance abuse, mental stability, and physical health. Therefore, rehabilitation programs are scheduled for the offenders depending on the level of risk and their classifications in the above list. For instance, mentally ill offenders may be introduced to psychiatric programs; while, substance abusers put in drug rehabilitation programs (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
3. Strengths and Weaknesses of most Risk Assessments.
Risk Assessment Tools have constantly been in use on account of their ability to identify risk of harm and offender recidivism. Most of these tools are gauged according to ease of use, applicability and accuracy of their results. On the contrary, different tools are believed to have weaknesses in terms of their complexity, lack of objectivity, and the inability to measure the risks associated with offenses (Webster, Rudiger, & Goran, 2002). All assessment tools are categorized under two broad sections namely; actuarial assessment and clinical decision tools as describe in the following paragraphs.
1 Actuarial Assessment
In this assessment, specialized actuarial instruments are used to assess the offender’s likelihood to re-offend through explicit rules for weighing each variable. In sexual offenses, for example, RRASOR assessment instrument is widely used (Hanson, 1997). This instrument comprises of four variables that include; prior sexual offenses, gender (male), age (>25) and extra-familial victims. In accordance to the rating scale, a close correlation to these variables meant a high-risk of re-offense.
3.2 Clinical Assessment
Unlike actuarial assessments, a clinical assessment helps the assessor to select from a range of risk elements that have been established empirically. The evaluator uses the information to provide a general estimate of the risk posed by the offender. The Sexual Violence Rating Scale (SVR-20) is an example of a clinical decision tool for use in sexual offences (Webster, Rudiger, & Goran, 2002).
3.3 Comparison and Conclusions
According to relevant sources, actuarial assessments present the most accurate results in the prediction of recidivism (Webster, Rudiger, & Goran, 2002). Furthermore, the assessment instruments present an easy way of accessing and analyzing offender information for faster solutions. However, there are critics that the actuarial rating scales used for assessment are one-dimensional and may not reflect the actual level of offender risks. Furthermore, the level of superiority in the assessment method depends on the formulation of assessment questions.
For instance, questions in different stages may result in different scores for the same assessment instrument used. As such, it is not true that a certain instrument will always provide the most accurate results for all scenarios.
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Washington, DC. Baltimore County. (2011). Inmate Classification. Retrieved September 14, 2011 from the BaltimoreCountyMD: http://www.baltimorecountymd.
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