Risk-Needs Assessment 101: Science Reveals New Tools to Manage Offenders

Risk-Needs Assessment 101: Science Reveals New Tools to Manage Offenders

Over the past few decades, experts have developed and refined risk/needs instruments to measure the likelihood of an individual returning to crime, violence or drug use. This 2011 report looked at how these tools can help officials to better identify offenders at a high risk of reoffending, while also pinpointing the types of supervision and services that are most likely to prevent future criminal behavior and slow the revolving door of America's prisons.

Key Finding

  • Risk/needs instruments measure an individual's risk of reoffending and identify the specific risk factors that, if addressed, can reduce the likelihood of future criminal behavior. 
  • Risk/needs assessment tools are used at many points in the corrections process by courts, probation and parole agencies, prison and jail systems and parole boards to inform decisions about offender management.
  • Differentiating offenders by risk level is important—intensive programming can work well with higher-risk offenders but can actually increase recidivism rates among lower-risk offenders.
  • Research has shown that a comprehensive evidence-based approach—assessing risk, matching supervision and treatment to an offender's risk level and targeting criminal risk factors with proven programs—reduces recidivism.
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