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
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.