Offender Classification

G. Overrides

On occasion, it may be necessary for officers and caseworkers to disregard the risk score generated by even the highest-quality assessment instruments and process. For example, overrides may be appropriate when the subject of the assessment exhibits a lengthy history of serious criminal activity but encounters his first arrest relatively late in that career. The gainfully employed, vocationally skilled, drug- and alcohol-avoidant, married serial killer who commits several homicides before experiencing even one arrest will achieve a low risk score on most general risk instruments. Obviously, following the recommendation of the risk tool would be a very bad decision.

Positive institutional adjustment is a factor that might warrant a lower custody level. History of committing rape or membership in a gang might warrant higher custody levels (Austin, 1998). Whatever the reason for the override, the total rate of overrides should remain low. Frequent overrides are an indication that the classification system is not working or is not understood by users.

H. Situational and Environmental Influences on Offender Behaviors

Prediction accuracy is difficult to achieve in volatile environments. Prisons, for example, harbor a variety of environmental and situational features that can give rise to circumstances favorable to violence, independent of the violence-proneness of any particular inmate. Encounters with gang members, sudden and unpopular decisions by prison administration, and even a facility’s architecture create opportunities for misconduct above and beyond the prediction presented by the formal risk assessment process (Austin & McGinnis, 2004).

Neighborhoods are also important influences on an offender’s risk. Neighborhoods vary widely with respect to the employment and housing opportunities they offer to reentering offenders, and they vary with respect to criminogenic influences such as crime rates, poverty, and residential instability. Using neighborhood-level census data in combination with data on a sample of offenders on community supervision in the Portland, Oregon, area, Kubrin and Stewart (2006) confirmed that recidivism rates were higher among offenders in disadvantaged neighborhoods, even after taking individual-level characteristics into account.

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