Use of Valid Actuarial Assessments of Risk and Needs

Goals of this Guide and How to Use It

NPRC's "Practice Targets" advise paroling authorities to: "Use their influence and leverage to target institutional and community resources to mid and high risk offenders to address their criminogenic needs" and "Consider for release, at the earliest stage possible – in light of statutes and other sentencing interests – offenders assessed as low risk."

Ten Practice Targets
for Paroling Authorities

1. Use good, empirically-based actuarial tools to assess risk and criminogenic needs of offenders.

2. Develop and use clear, evidence-based, policy-driven decision-making tools, policies, and guidelines that reflect the full range of a paroling authority's concerns (e.g., punishment, victim issues, community safety, etc.).

3. Maintain meaningful partnerships with institutional corrections and community supervision (and others) to encourage a seamless transition process and the availability of sound, evidence-based programs.

4. Use their influence and leverage to target institutional and community resources to mid and high risk offenders to address their criminogenic needs.

5. Consider for release at the earliest stage possible -- in light of statutes and other sentencing interests -- offenders assessed as low risk.

6. Use the parole interview/hearing/ review process as an opportunity to -- among other goals -- enhance offender motivation to change.

7. Fashion condition setting policy to minimize requirements on low risk offenders, and target conditions to criminogenic needs of medium and high risk offenders.

8. Develop policy-driven, evidence-informed responses to parole violations that incorporate considerations of risk, criminogenic need and severity, assure even-handed treatment of violators, and utilize resources wisely.

9. Develop and strengthen case-level decision making skills/capacities in these areas.

10. Develop and strengthen agency level policy making, strategic management and performance measurement skills/capacities.

This Action Guide, Management of Low Risk Offenders, is designed to help parole Boards improve and strengthen their practice by considering, in particular, how empirically valid information on offender risk can help shape their decision-making practices—both with regard to setting expectations around program participation and with regard to the timing of release, with a particular emphasis on offenders assessed as low risk to reoffend.  Among these offenders—especially the subset of these for whom other non-risk considerations such as extreme severity of the crime or victim impact—are not present, this action guide will present the research basis for ensuring that those low risk offenders not be required to complete scarce risk reduction programs as a result of parole Board expectations AND that they are considered for release from incarceration at the earliest possible time. It is one in a series of  Action Guides developed by the National Parole Resource Center (NPRC) and builds upon the NPRC's Self-Assessment Toolkit for Paroling Authorities, an online guide that identifies ten practice targets paroling authorities should consider implementing to assist them in achieving their public safety and risk reduction goals. 
The goals of this Guide are to:

Each Action Guide addresses a different practice target and provides parole Board members the opportunity to consider each of the targets—explained in the Toolkit—in more depth.  See side bar on this page for the list of the Ten Practices Targets for Paroling Authorities.  This Action Guide is particularly strongly related, and should be considered in combination with, the Action Guide on Practice Target #4—"Use their influence and leverage to target institutional and community resource to mid and high risk offenders to address their criminogenic needs. (Link)
It is strongly recommended that parole Boards use the Toolkit as a first step before using this Action Guide – or any of the Guides in the series. The Toolkit reviews all of the practice targets, their basis in the research, and engages the user – through a series of questions – in a process of considering broadly how they see their current practices in each area. The Action Guides then support a Board in moving toward significant practice improvements in each area.

This Action Guide on Management and Release of Low Risk Offenders is intended to assist parole Board chairs, members, and staff to:

This guide is presented in sections to facilitate its use:


This project was supported by Grant No. 2010-DJ-BX-K140 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.


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