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Page Title: Past, Present and Future
Statements from ACA Executive Director, James A. Gondles Jr., or other corrections professionals and researchers are posted here periodically.

Using Risk and Need Assessments to Reduce Recidivism
Bernie Rochford Esq.
Executive Vice President
Oriana House Inc.

September/October 2013, Corrections Today

Editor's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the American Correctional Association.

When I started my career in community corrections in 1983 as an adult probation officer in Summit County, Ohio, I found myself surrounded by very dedicated professionals who wanted to make a difference in the community and among the offenders under their care. At that time, the focus was primarily on enforcement and surveillance. Treatment and programming were left to others to provide. Many caring people put forward ideas they thought would help rehabilitate offenders, but there was no research to support the potential effectiveness of these programs.

In 1985, I began working for Oriana House Inc., (where I have been ever since) as it opened a halfway house program for felony and misdemeanor offenders. The 16-bed halfway house did not have a lot of resources to devote to programming, and clients had to rely on services available in the general community. I can tell you that many community organizations were not that welcoming to those in the offender population. In addition, the services offered were not geared toward the offenders and it was difficult to place clients in a timely manner.

We had a "one size fits all" approach to many services. Life skills, education and substance abuse programming were the mainstays and everyone received them. There was no real attempt to vary the length or intensity of an individual's placement. We were just scratching the surface of what high-risk clients needed, and were over-programming our low-risk clients.

Thankfully, during the last 20 years or so, research has advanced tremendously in the field of corrections. Pioneers like Edward J. Latessa, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, and many others have put together a comprehensive body of research that serves as a road map for practitioners to follow. This research has led to the development of validated risk and need assessments, which allow us to target the clients most in need of our services. One point that research results have driven home is that we need to focus our attention on the high-risk, high-need offenders in order to gain greater reductions in recidivism. Conversely, and something I initially struggled with, we need to move low-risk/low-need offenders out of the system as quickly as possible to avoid increasing their likelihood of reoffending. This can be challenging if other providers in the system have not kept up with the research.

Collectively, we must resist efforts to place low-risk offenders in our highly structured programs because a judge, probation/parole officer or even our own staff are upset with the current behavior of a particular client or have a "gut feeling." Professional judgment still has its place, but it must be tempered by objective reasoning. Resources need to be directed toward individuals whom we have the greatest opportunity to impact.

Today, we focus on individualized risks and needs. Our programs are cognitively based and must include skill development and role playing. In Ohio, all parts of the criminal justice system use the same assessment tools, which were developed specifically for Ohio - The Ohio Risk Assessment System.

Community corrections programs are focusing on appropriate levels of services for each client. We look for responsivity issues to ensure clients are getting the most from the services being provided. We value the importance of program fidelity, taking steps to ensure each service is delivered as it is designed today, tomorrow and a year from now.

We have changed a great deal in the last 30 years. Treatment and programming are no longer someone else's responsibility. We are vested in providing our clients with specific programming to meet their individual needs. We even speak a different language, using terms that give consistent, detailed meaning to our efforts. Many exciting developments lay ahead and I look forward to greater refinement of programs as we deliver a quality service to the client and the community.

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