Risk Assessment

Overview

The Center for Court Innovation seeks to help criminal justice officials make more informed decisions at all stages of the process—from bail to sentencing to reentry. The risk-need-responsivity model is a framework for developing treatment plans based on individuals’ histories and needs.

Risk refers to an individual’s chance of re-offending. Need refers to underlying problems such as addiction or joblessness that research has documented to impact the chances of re-offending. By using an evidence-based assessment to identify both risks and needs, criminal justice agencies can craft individualized treatment plans that target the problems that lead to criminal behavior.

The Center for Court Innovation attempts to promote the risk-need-responsivity model and evidence-based interventions through its operating programs and through its technical assistance work with reformers around the world. The Center is currently developing a short risk-need assessment instrument for busy urban criminal courts.

Risk Assessment, Racial Bias,
and Technology

On December 5, 2016, the Center for Court Innovation hosted a small, half-day working session looking at recent developments in data science—machine learning, innovative data sources, and real-time computational abilities most notably—and whether they can be used to advance the practice of risk assessment while better safeguarding against racial bias. The session brought together criminal justice experts and practitioners, researchers, and top data scientists and ethicists and wrestled with some tough questions: How do we measure fairness? Can we live with some unmeasurable racial bias if the use of risk assessment tools ultimately reduces everyone's risk of incarceration? Can there be such a thing as algorithmic accountability? The group considered a range of empirical and practical strategies, although the consensus was that the discussion was just scratching the surface. The Center for Court Innovation is eager to continue fostering this mode of cross-disciplinary, cross-sector dialogue and problem-solving going forward. For a list of participants see here.

Sarah Fritsche, Deputy Director of Research-Practice Strategies at the Center for Court Innovation, presents on the “Central Eight” model of criminogenic risk factors.Sarah Fritsche, Deputy Director of Research-Practice Strategies at the Center for Court Innovation, presents on the “Central Eight” model of criminogenic risk factors.Amber Hampton, Senior US Researcher at Weight Watchers, discussing the challenges of implementation in a breakout session.Amber Hampton, Senior US Researcher at Weight Watchers, discussing the challenges of implementation in a breakout session.Shubha Bala, Product Manager for Technology and Innovation at the Center for Court Innovation, introducing presenter Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction and Doing Data Science.Shubha Bala, Product Manager for Technology and Innovation at the Center for Court Innovation, introducing presenter Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction and Doing Data Science.

In The News

  • Writing in the pages of Judges Journal, Center for Court Innovation Director of Mental Health Court Programs Carol Fisler discusses the implications of a growing body of research on the efficacy of mental health courts.
  • An op-ed by the Center's Research Director Michael Rempel in the Albany Times Union on the findings from a study on the Rockefeller Drug Law reform.

Publications

Demystifying Risk Assessment: Key Principles and Controversies

Demystifying Risk Assessment: Key Principles and Controversies

By Sarah Picard-Fritsche, Michael Rempel, Jennifer A. Tallon, Julian Adler and Natalie Reyes

This paper explains the science underlying risk-based decision-making and explores both the promise and controversies associated with the increasing application of “big data” to the field of criminal justice. While the technology has contributed to important policy reforms, such as the diversion of low-risk groups from jail and prison, debate has arisen over the potential for risk assessments to reproduce existing racial biases, the lack of transparency of some proprietary tools, and the challenge of applying classifications based on group behavior to individual cases. Along with identifying an emerging professional consensus that the careful and ethical implementation of risk assessment tools can improve outcomes, the paper closes with a series of best practices urging jurisdictions adopt a localized, collaborative approach.

Publications

Evidence-Based Risk Assessment in a Mental Health Court: A Validation Study of the COMPAS Risk Assessment

Evidence-Based Risk Assessment in a Mental Health Court: A Validation Study of the COMPAS Risk Assessment

By Warren A. Reich, Sarah Picard-Fritsche, Virginia Barber Rioja and Merrill Rotter

This study examines the validity of the COMPAS with offenders who have a serious mental illness. A widely used risk-needs assessment tool, the COMPAS was found to be a good predictor of re-arrest with this population, although it was more effective in distinguishing low-risk offenders from all others than in identifying those who pose a medium as opposed to a high risk of re-arrest. Overall, approximately two-thirds of study-participants were classified as low risk. At the same time, more than half of the sample scored in the high range on the important needs domains of substance abuse, criminal personality, and criminal thinking. The study discusses potential implications for using the COMPAS with mentally-ill individuals.

Most Popular Research

Publications

Evidence-Based Strategies for Working with Offenders

Evidence-Based Strategies for Working with Offenders

By Michael Rempel

This fact sheet distills a growing body of research about evidence-based strategies in five areas for reducing recidivism among criminal offenders: assessment, treatment, deterrence, procedural justice, and collaboration.

Audio

With 11 Questions, Officers Assess Homicide Risk

With 11 Questions, Officers Assess Homicide Risk

David M. Sargent of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence has taught thousands of law enforcement officers how to implement the Lethality Assessment Program, which uses a short survey to assess victims' risk of being killed and a simple protocol to encourage them to get help.

Publications

Coming Home to Harlem: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court

Coming Home to Harlem: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court

By Lama Hassoun Ayoub and Tia Pooler

This study of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court compares participants in a neighborhood-based reentry program to similar parolees on traditional parole. Results indicate that the reentry court, which implemented a validated and reliable tool for assessing the risks and needs of individuals returning from prison, produced a 22% reduction in the reconviction rate and a 60% reduction in the felony reconviction rate over an 18-month follow-up period. The reentry court also produced a 45% reduction in revocations. Interview findings indicate that reentry court parolees were significantly more likely to be in school or employed and to have positive perceptions of their parole officer.

Read a summary of the report

Listen to an interview with one of the report's authors

Contact
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  • phone: +44 2076.329.060