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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Risk/Needs Assessments for Youths

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2015
10 pages
Based on a literature review, this paper discusses the definitions of risk/needs assessments for youth, their theoretical foundation, their administration, risk levels derived from assessments, evaluation findings for their effectiveness, and their limitations.
Risk/needs assessments are tools intended to assist juvenile justice practitioners in assessing, classifying (risk level for recidivism), and treating juvenile offenders. Risk/needs assessments are evaluated with methods different from those used to examine the effectiveness of programs or interventions. The validity and reliability of the assessment are important for ensuring that the estimated levels of risk and treatment needs of youth are accurate and appropriate. Interrater-reliability testing ensures that different practitioners who use a particular risk/assessment instrument will reach the same conclusions about a youth's risk level when assessing the same case information. Instrument validity is the extent to which a particular risk/needs assessment instrument is effective in measuring what it claims to measure. A study conducted by the National Council on Crime & Delinquency evaluated commonly used risk assessment instruments in terms of their predictive validity, reliability, equity, and cost (Baird et al., 2013). Some assessment instruments tested were accurate in categorizing juvenile offenders as low, moderate, or high risk; whereas, others did not distinguish among the risk categories. The report concluded that "limiting factors on a risk assessment to those with a strong, significant relationship to outcomes will result in a more accurate risk classification," and that instruments using a straightforward actuarial approach generally do better than those with more complicated approaches. The current literature review advises that there are still limitations to the use of risk/needs assessment instruments, since there is no one-size fits-all tools available. The particular population of juvenile offenders assessed should be considered when selecting the tool to use. 20 references

Date Published: January 1, 2015