Offender Classification

IV. Issues in Classification Implementation and Practice

A. Classification Protocols

Protocols for offender classification depend upon choice of assessment instruments. Some tools involve interviews by staff, and others depend upon the offender’s self-appraisal. In either case, the instrument will be scored by correctional personnel.

Training is usually required before an individual can administer and score a classification tool. Depending upon the instrument, training may be as brief as 1 or 2 days. Others may require a week-long training. Still others, and particularly most personality inventories, require that the interviewer have an advanced degree or prior experience leading to the accumulation of clinical skills and judgment, in addition to specific training in the application of the instrument itself.

The extent of training and experience an individual has had in the administration of particular tools can have a positive impact on their reliability and validity. For example, Flores, Lowencamp, Holsinger, and Latessa (2006) found that the relationship between LSI-R score and supervision outcome was strongest for agencies whose officers underwent training in the use of the instrument and in agencies that had used the LSI for 3 years or more.

B. Interpretation of Risk Scores

After a risk assessment has been completed, its administrator totals the scores for each risk item. Each risk total is associated with particular probability of failure among persons having the same or higher score; the score itself is not a probability. Thus, an offender whose risk score is twice as high as another offender’s is not twice as likely to be rearrested. Increasing risk scores represent increasing probabilities of failure, and so should be used merely to rank clients as to risk of the outcome of interest. In order to determine the actual probability associated with a particular score, corrections managers must keep up with statistics regarding the failure rates of persons with each score.

C. Determination of Offender Risk Levels

Typically, ranges of risk assessment scores are combined into risk levels. For example, offenders scoring 0 to 10 might be placed in a low-risk category, those scoring 11 to 20 in a medium-risk category, and offenders scoring 21 to 30 in a high-risk category. The choice of which ranges of scores should be regarded as indicators of high, medium, and low risk classifications is an important one. Cutoffs delineating each group should take resources into account. In other words, what percentage of clients can an agency reasonably devote treatment and supervision resources to? Not all offenders, or even a large minority, can be treated as high-risk offenders. Devoting more supervision resources to highest-risk cases, even if it is a minority of cases, will result in more crimes prevented than less supervision spread across many cases (Clear & Gallagher, 1985).

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