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The risk and needs assessment refers to the application of instruments that measures and assess the criminal risk factor associated with a certain offender, while also establishing the specific needs for the offender which if addressed, can reduce the offender’s future likelihood of engagement in criminal activities (James, 2015). The application of the risk and needs assessments has become commonplace in most states within the United States, where the parole and probation officers are required to assess the risks and needs associated with all parole applicants. Thus, most state laws now require the presentation of the assessment reports, which the courts can then apply to determine the eligibility of an offender to other alternative programs to incarceration (Champion, 2008). Additionally, the risk and needs assessment can be applied to determine the exact nature of the treatment or probation programs that an offender can be required to undertake, as an alternative to incarceration, based on both the need for treatment identified, as well as the intensity level of the supervision deemed necessary for the offender (James, 2015).The major role of the probation/parole officers is to ensure that the offenders comply with the requirements of their probation or parole programs, despite the fact that such probationers and parolees are often dangerous criminals. In this respect, one of the key functions of the Pos is to ascertain the degree of risk that is posed by the offenders that they are supervising (Champion, 2008). Additionally, the Pos are also required to determine the needs of the offenders, which requires to be met in order to help such offenders reduce the chances of engaging in future crimes (James, 2015).
Importance of Risk and Needs Assessments
First, the fundamental importance of the risk and needs assessment is to enabled the POs identify, network and coordinate the most appropriate alternative to incarceration for the offenders (James, 2015). The risk and needs assessment tools are important to enable the probation and correction justice system to identify offenders at high risk of crimes such as rape, isolate them and the treat them accordingly (Champion, 2008). More of the offenders who are released by the justice system on parole or probation conditions often leave their jurisdictions without the permission of the POs, thus posing the risk of such offenders committing more crimes (Champion, 2008). Thus, it is very important that the risks of re-engaging in crimes is assessed from the very beginning when an offender enters the prison, correctional or rehabilitation facilities, to determine the extent to which such an offender is likely to violate the parole and probation conditions required of them. This way, it becomes possible for the justice system to determine the exact nature of alternative that an offender should be subjected to as an alternative to incarceration, or even whether the offender is eligible to such alternative programs in the first place (James, 2015). Therefore, the risk and assessments is important to ensure that the offenders are matched with the most appropriate probation or parole program, or even denied one, when such offenders proves to be too risky.
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The second importance of risk and needs assessment is to mitigate the dangers and risks of harm posed by the offenders to the POs, in the process of recapture and apprehension of the runaway parolees or probationers (Champion, 2008). When offenders are set free by the justice system through probation or parole conditions, there are risks associated with such offenders using the freedom as an avenue to abscond and escape from the correctional responsibilities required of them. The absconding and escape of the offenders from the parole or probation programs necessitates the search of the offenders by the POs, for subsequent recapture and apprehension (Champion, 2008). However, since the recaptured and returned probationers and parolees face a possible revocation of their probation and parole program and a possible incarceration, tracking them down for recapture and apprehension becomes increasingly dangerous for the Pos, because such absconder offenders might retaliate by causing harm to the POs (Champion, 2008). Consequently, a risk and needs assessment is important, because it helps the Pos to identify the possible risks of absconding posed by the offenders if subjected to parole or probation conditions well in advance, thus eliminating the risky offenders from the eligibility list of parole or probation offenders (Champion, 2008).
The third importance the risk and needs assessments, is to enable the Pos to indentify criminal gangs (Champion, 2008). Gangs are a major part of the society, where crimes are mostly perpetrated by organized groups with well structured hierarchies and chain of command. Therefore, it is very important that the Pos are able to identify the signs, symbols and patterns of crimes associated with criminal gangs, which becomes possible through the use of the risk and needs assessment instruments (Champion, 2008). Identifying whether a certain offender is a gang member is important, because it does not only help to define the risks of absconding associated with the offender, but also define the nature of the risks and the conditions under which the Pos will be working with the particular offender (James, 2015). Working with gang members is an increasingly difficult and dangerous task for Pos, because entering the gang dominated neighborhoods where the particular gang-member offenders reside for the POs, largely influences how they conduct their work, as well as the dangers and risks they face while working in such neighborhoods. Therefore, the risk and needs assessments are important, to help the POs device the appropriate, new and improved procedures for the supervision of the increasingly dangerous gang-member offenders (Champion, 2008).
The fourth importance of the risk and needs assessments is that they enable defining the right probation and parole volunteers-offender match. Volunteers are a large and important part of the probationary and correctional justice system that help in various aspects of rehabilitating the offenders and training them for different job skills which the offenders can apply after their probation (Champion, 2008). However, the volunteers working with the probation and the correctional justice system are not professionally trained to deal with dangerous criminals and risky offenders, and thus may not be able to protect themselves adequately from the risk of harm posed by the offenders. In this respect, the risk and needs assessments become a very important tool for assessing and determining which offenders pose minimal risks to the volunteers and assigning them to the volunteers, while avoiding assigning volunteers to the high-risk offenders (James, 2015). Thus, the risk and needs assessment is a vital instrument for use in creating the right offender-volunteer match, and thus facilitate the smooth working of volunteers in helping rehabilitating and supporting the transformation of the offenders into law-abiding citizens after their probationary periods.
Types of Risk Assessment Instruments
There are three different types of risk assessment instruments that are applied to define the levels of risks associated with the offenders.
Anamnestic Prediction Instruments
The anamnestic prediction instruments predicts an individual offender’s risk, based on the offenders past circumstances (Champion, 2008). Thus, the previous circumstances under which an offender was drawn to crimes are investigated, and the likelihood of future re-engagement in crime evaluated, based on how the present circumstances differ from the previous circumstances. For example, if an offender was drawn to crime because the offender was poorly educated, drug or alcohol dependent and unemployed in the past, the likelihood of the offender turning back to the crime after the circumstances are changed is evaluated.
Thus, the purpose of the anamnestic prediction instruments is to assess how the offender is likely to fair after the past circumstances are changed or remain the same, such as through training the offender for a job acquisition and treating the offender for alcohol and drug-related addictions, or treatment for other psychological problems related with past assaults (Champion, 2008). In this respect, the judges may rely on assessing the offenders’ risk based on the past offence circumstances in relation to the circumstances of the present offence, and determine if offender is associated with high or low risks of behavioral change (Champion, 2008). The anamnestic prediction instrument is highly effective instruments. Nevertheless, where the previous circumstances have changed, it might become necessary for the assessment indicators to be adjusted, because additional behavioral predictions will require to be made.
Actuarial Prediction Instruments
The actuarial Prediction instruments are risk assessment tools that apply characteristics of a class of offenders that are similar to those of other offenders being considered for probation, parole or incarceration (Champion, 2008). Therefore, the risks associated with an offender are determined on the previous outcomes of the offenders like them, when they were either subjected to parole, probation or incarceration programs. The actuarial Prediction instruments is a generally aggregative predictive tool, and its application is based on the assumption that a given offender with similar characteristics like of other earlier offenders will produce similar outcomes when placed either in the parole, probation of inmate classification programs (Champion, 2008).
The purpose of the actuarial Prediction instruments is to classify offenders with generalized characteristics and generalize their risk levels, resulting in offering alternative programs to offenders from those of their similar characteristic past offenders, where such past offenders registered high failures. Thus, if a large number of offenders with similar characteristics as the current offender failed to complete their probation, parole or other alternative correctional programs to which they were subjected, the current offender is subjected to a different program, through the assumption that their risk of failure in the same program is high (Champion, 2008).The actuarial prediction instrument is highly effective. However, the major weakness with this risk assessment instrument is that it largely applies the previous program failures data compared to the program success data.
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Clinical Prediction Instruments
The clinical prediction instruments are risk assessment tools that classify the offenders risks, based on the experience and skills of the professional clinical profession in working with the offender (Champion, 2008). This risk assessment tool applies the professional judgment of the clinical predictor, with subjectivity and reliance on the predictor’s skills being prominent (Champion, 2008). The purpose of the clinical prediction instruments is to assess offender risks that are mostly psychological-based or psychiatry-based, which would require the skills and experiences of a clinical profession working directly with the offender (James, 2015). The clinical prediction instrument is a lowly effective tool. Additionally, the major limitation with the clinical prediction risk assessment instruments is that they are comparatively expensive, considering that each offender risk assessment is individualized (Champion, 2008). Additionally, the actuarial and anamnestic tools are more reliable and produce more valid predictions, despite the fact that they are both situational and apply generalized characteristics, compared to the clinical prediction instruments.
Criticisms of the Risk Assessments Instruments
The major criticism associated with the risk assessments instruments is that they are imperfect (Champion, 2008). In this respect, the risk assessments instruments cannot be applied as fool-proof measures of the risks associated with offenders, considering that the predictors of such risk factors applied by the risk assessment instruments have not attained the perfection level. The major issue that makes the risk assessments instruments imperfect is the fact that there is no standard definition of the relevant factors to be included in such predictors of the offender’s risks. The outcome is that such instruments lacks the infallible accuracy of predicting the offender risks, and thus are prone to errors (Champion, 2008).
The other criticism of the risk assessments instruments is that they are cannot be generalized (James, 2015). This is because; the predictors of offender risks in one state may not be the same as the predictors of the offender risks in a different state (Champion, 2008). In this respect, there lacks a standard definition of the measurement criteria that should be applied to define the predictors of the offender risk.
Selective incapacitation outcome is another criticism associated with the risk assessments instruments, where such instruments may results in offenders who have committed similar crimes being subjected to different types of punishment, resulting in unfairness (Champion, 2008). The risk assessment tool may predict one offender as more risky than the other despite the two offenders committing similar crimes, resulting in unfairness in punishing the two offenders, with one offender suffering harsh punishment than the other (Champion, 2008).
- Champion, D. J. (2008). Probation, parole, and community corrections in the United States. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education.
- James, N. (2015). Risk and Needs Assessment in the Criminal Justice System. Congressional Research Service, 1-28.