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Training To See Risk: Measuring the Accuracy of Clinical and Actuarial Risk Assessment Among Federal Probation Officers

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 75 Issue: 2 Dated: September 2011 Pages: 52-56
J.C. Oleson; Scott W. VanBenschoten; Charles R. Robinson; Christopher T. Lowenkamp
Date Published
September 2011
5 pages
This article presents the methodology and findings of a study that examined whether Federal probation officers were more accurate in assessing risk for reoffending when they used the Federal Post-Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) instrument than when they used their own unstructured clinical judgment based on their professional experience.
The study found that the Federal probation officers made more consistent and accurate assessments of offender risk when using the PCRA than when using unstructured clinical judgment. These findings support the view that, in assigning offenders to the correct risk category, actuarial prediction outperforms unstructured clinical judgment. The study also found that clinical judgments tended to overestimate risk, making them less cost-effective than judgments based on the PCRA score. This study involved Federal probation officers who attended four regional training meeting during 2010 and 2011. At each site, trainers explained to the officers that they would be asked to assess an offender's risk based on a videotaped mock intake interview and supplementary written documentation. They were asked to place the offender in the case vignette in one of four risk categories: low, low/moderate, moderate, or high. They were also asked to identify the offender's three most important criminogenic needs in rank order. The risk levels were not defined, thus leaving the officers to define the risk levels on their own. On the second day of the training, after learning the scoring rules of the PCRA and practicing on several scenarios, probation officers viewed the training vignette for a second time. Instead of using their professional judgment to identify the offender's risk level and criminogenic needs, they were asked to use the PCRA and calculate a risk score. 2 figures and 54 references