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Demystifying Risk Assessment: Key Principles and Controversies

NCJ Number
Date Published
30 pages
This essay identifies and examines four key issues in risk assessment for persons involved in criminal justice processing, based on the latest relevant social science research.
The following questions are addressed in the essay: 1) What is risk assessment? 2) What are some strengths and downsides of risk assessment? 3) What underlies current controversies on the use of risk assessment in criminal justice? 4) How can the benefits of risk assessment be maximized? The discussion of the nature of risk assessment considers how "risk" is generally defined in the field, the features of data-driven risk assessment, the kinds of risk factors commonly found in risk assessment tools, and how risk classifications are created. The discussion of strengths and downsides of risk assessment focuses on whether risk assessment reduces unnecessary incarceration, facilitates treatment, or otherwise improves criminal justice systems. The limitations of current risk-assessment tools and their use are also addressed. In examining the debate surrounding risk assessment, the essay considers arguments regarding the use of risk assessment in criminal justice. Consideration of how the benefits of risk assessment can be maximized focuses on key principles to consider for the effective, legal, and ethical application of risk assessment in the criminal justice field. 1 table and 24 notes