Offender Classification

VI. Conclusion

Classification is the foundation of effective correctional supervision and treatment. Numerous tools are available for classification, such that it is possible for personnel of varying skill backgrounds to identify the risk and treatment needs of offenders in a wide variety of correctional settings. The most common form of assessment is classification for risk, possibly due to the stronger emphasis on crime control relative to rehabilitation aims of the criminal justice process. Risk assessment is also the most controversial form of classification, inasmuch as its errors are more visible and consequential to the public (in the case of false negatives) and the offender (in the case of false positives).

Many advances have taken place with respect to measuring offender risk and needs. Enhanced statistical methods and discoveries regarding the correlates of criminal offending have allowed researchers to make predictions that are great improvements over clinical judgments. However, new arenas for prediction await these advances. For example, classification takes place after sentencing, not before, though clearly better sentencing decisions could be made in the presence of classification results. The determination of which sex offenders should be eligible for community notification takes place without the benefit of state-of-the-art prediction tools. Similarly, decision making regarding which sex offenders should be subjected to civil commitment resembles clinical judgments from an earlier era. There is a need for application of classification research beyond traditional contexts.

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