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Offender Risk Assessment in Virginia: A Three-Stage Evaluation

NCJ Number
Brian J. Ostrom; Matthew Kleiman; Fred Chessman II; Randall M. Hansen; Neal B. Kauder
Date Published
139 pages
This evaluation examined whether risk assessment at the sentencing stage has proven to be a viable strategy for diverting nonviolent offenders from incarceration in Virginia.
The evaluation team collected data to assess the risk assessment instrument during a 3-year pilot test that tracked the success (as measured by recidivism) of a group of diverted offenders in 6 of Virginia's 31 judicial circuits. The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC) designed the risk assessment instrument to identify -- from among eligible larceny, fraud, and drug offenders who would otherwise be recommended for incarceration by State sentencing guidelines -- offenders with the lowest probability of being reconvicted of a felony crime and divert them to some form of alternative punishment. The risk assessment instrument focused on offender characteristics and demographics, current offense information, prior adult criminal record, and prior juvenile contact with legal authorities. Information and data were developed on multiple case and offender characteristics for all offenders sentenced and diverted between 1997-1999; onsite observations and interviews with judges, probation officers, prosecutors, and defense counsel were conducted; and information was collected on the costs and benefits of diversion and recidivism. Based on its findings, the evaluation team concluded that the risk assessment instrument has been successful in identifying low-risk candidates for diversion. Risk assessment was well-received in the pilot courts by judges and probation officers. The instrument proved easy to administer, and the program led to cost savings without jeopardizing the safety of citizens. Further, the evaluation concluded that the theoretical framework and statistical analyses used to construct the risk assessment instrument were well-conceived and employed. This report recommends that following a revalidation of the factors included on the risk assessment instrument, the program should be implemented statewide. Extensive tables and figures, appended risk-assessment instrument and supplementary information, and an 80-item bibliography