Goals of this Guide, and How to Use It
This Action Guide, Use of Sound, Actuarial Assessments for Risk and Needs, is designed to help parole boards improve and strengthen their practice by incorporating empirically valid information on offender risk and need factors into release, condition setting, and revocation decision-making. 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.
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.1 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 Use of Valid Actuarial Assessments of Risk and Needs is intended to assist parole board chairs, members, and staff to:
- Use the information and insights gained as a result of using the NPRC Self- Assessment Toolkit for Paroling Authorities;
- Consider how use of validated risk and needs assessment tools can be part of a strategy for enhancing public safety and the effective and efficient use of resources;
- Develop a common understanding of the board's current policies and practices on risk and need assessment information;
- Review and analyze the evidence and "best practices" on risk and needs assessment, identify the gaps and challenges they want to address; and
- Consider what changes the board would like to make and how to best plan and implement those changes.
This guide is presented in sections to facilitate its use:
- Tab 1: Goals of this Guide and How to Use It.
- Tab 2: Background and Context provides an introduction and sets the context regarding the origins and traditional purposes for assessing offender risk and need factors.
- Tab 3: Understanding the Evidence and Its Implications for Using Risk and Needs Assessment Tools provides a brief overview of the empirical research on assessment to predict likelihood of recidivism and identify targets for behavior change. It also addresses some of the challenges of implementing practices based on empirically-based risk and needs assessments.
- Tab 4: Moving Toward Implementing Practice Improvements and Performance Measurement details seven steps, highlighted in a graphic "roadmap," that boards can take to develop and implement change strategies to improve current policies and practices regarding the use of assessment information. The steps include a set of questions that, if answered accurately, will provide a snapshot of key aspects of these practices. This section also provides examples of policies regarding use of assessment information that other boards have elected to adopt. The section includes a sample action plan format and tools to guide parole boards through a process of revisiting/updating the goals they hope to accomplish, and defining/implementing changes they conclude and agree must be made in policy and/or practice, and closes with a plan to measure performance and offers considerations for defining and measuring progress toward success, and using measurement feedback to continue strengthening practice going forward.
- Tab 5: References/Endnotes provide documentation of the literature and research upon which this Action Guide is based.
- Tab 6: Links lists helpful resources used by the NPRC in assembling this Action Guide and which are recommended for those wanting to supplement their knowledge on this topic. The listings in this tab provide direct links to web-based resources.
1 Use of Valid Actuarial Assessments of Risk and Needs; Development and Use of Evidence-Based Decisionmaking Tools, Policies and Guidelines; Strategies for Maintaining Meaningful Partnerships to Support Sound Decisionmaking, Seamless Transition of Offenders from Prison to the Community, and Assuring the Availability and Targeting of Effective Programs; Release Considerations with Low Risk Offenders; The Parole Interview as an Opportunity to Enhance Motivation to Change; A Strategic Approach to Setting Parole Conditions; A Strategic Approach to Responding to Parole Violations; and An Action Guide for Strengthening Operations: Individual Decisionmaking and Policy Development.
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.