Risk assessment is a mechanism to classify individuals or families based on their likelihood of future system involvement. When any subgroup is overrepresented in the system, risk algorithms must balance the values of equality and equity. Administrators, practitioners, community service providers, researchers, and other subject-matter experts must choose the model that best meets their purpose.
This is the fifth brief in the six-part series titled A Question of Evidence, Part Two. In this brief, Chris Baird discusses the research behind structured professional judgment (SPJ) models, a less structured approach to risk assessment favored by the justice field. The brief also addresses concerns with the validity, reliability, equity, and utility of SPJ models.
A disposition matrix brings a greater degree of consistency, reliability, and equity to the assessment and decision-making process.
NCCD has released new graphics that display important data on the effectiveness of risk assessments used in juvenile justice systems around the country. These charts come from NCCD’s study of eight risk assessments in 10 jurisdictions in consultation with an advisory board of juvenile justice researchers and developers of commercial risk assessment systems. In response to concerns voiced by juvenile justice practitioners and researchers about the classification and predictive validity of several risk assessments, NCCD conducted a multisite study that compared the assessments’ predictive validity, reliability, equity, and costs.
When juvenile justice practitioners and researchers began raising concerns about some of the actuarial risk assessments used to classify juvenile offenders by their likelihood of future delinquency, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention funded NCCD to conduct a study of several of these assessments. A full report—comparing the predictive validity, reliability, equity, and costs of eight assessments—has been published here.
Since the 1970s, those working in the field of juvenile justice have sought ways to classify offenders by their likelihood of future delinquency—primarily through the use of actuarial risk assessments. As more such assessment instruments were developed and put into use, some juvenile justice practitioners and researchers began raising concerns about the classification and predictive validity of several of these risk assessments. In response to those concerns, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention funded NCCD to conduct a study of eight risk assessments in 10 jurisdictions across the United States. NCCD researchers, in consultation with an advisory board of juvenile justice researchers and developers of commercial juvenile justice risk assessment systems included in the study, compared the assessments’ predictive validity, reliability, equity, and costs.
Girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population. The national picture shows that crime rates are decreasing for both girls and boys, but the rate of decrease has been slower for girls. Nationally, since 1997, incarceration for boys has decreased 18% compared to only 8% for girls. However, in 14 states the female juvenile rate of incarceration has increased more than 30% since 1997. Nationally, girls make up 15% of the incarcerated youth population and as much as 34% in some states. States and local jurisdictions are in need of gender-responsive
interventions to reverse the escalating trends of girls entering into the system.
Over the last two decades, America's Child Protective Service (CPS) systems have seen the number of African American families on caseloads increase. In most jurisdictions, African Americans are more likely than Whites, Hispanics, or Asians to have allegations of maltreatment substantiated and to have children placed in out-of-home care. This trend is particularly disturbing when viewed in the context of the National Incidence Studies (NIS), which conclude that there are no differences in maltreatment rates for African Americans and Whites. If these studies are accurate, they raise serious questions about the disproportionate number of African American families in America's child protection system. Some have worried (or even concluded) that as more and more CPS agencies implement actuarial risk assessment systems, racial bias will be exacerbated. Rather than speculate about the potential impact of research-based systems on the over-representation of African Americans, CRC has reviewed data from agencies using actuarial risk assessments to determine if these systems have resulted in a greater level of disparity between African Americans and Whites. This paper answers questions about the relationships between risk, race, and recurrence of abuse and neglect. It presents the actual experiences of states using actuarial risk assessment and clarifies precisely how equity issues should be evaluated.