Fidelity of Risk and Needs Assessments
A number of provisions are put into law to ensure fidelity of risk and needs assessment tools. The quality control measures include validation and revalidation of assessments, training on the use of the instruments, and flexibility in policy to allow for new and emerging research.
Validation of assessments is a process that ensures the specific instrument being used is appropriate for the people for whom it is being used. Revalidation ensures the continued accuracy of these tools. Most statutes require a validated risk assessment be used while few address the revalidation of the tool. At least nine states require in statute that reviews of risk and needs assessments occur on an annual or recurring basis. Fig. 2 shows the various timeframes for revalidation that have been enacted into law.
A risk assessment tool is only useful if the person administering the tool knows how to use it. For this reason, it is important for the officers administering the assessments to be trained in their use. The statutory provisions vary, but many of the states that use these assessments, whether mandated or not, require staff to be trained on their use.
States that require training include Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia. In states such as Delaware and South Carolina, the training is conducted annually. Training is semiannual in Colorado, and Montana requires initial training on risk assessment and evidence-based practices as well as regular training.
South Carolina also requires parole board members to complete comprehensive training within 90 days of their appointment. Training includes using evidence-based practices to determine the “risk, needs and motivations to change” for people on supervision. Parole board members must also complete eight hours of annual training that includes a “review and analysis of the effectiveness of the assessment tool used by the parole agents” (S.C. Code § 21-24-10).
In Nebraska, chief parole officers must be trained to become trainers, ensuring “long-term and self-sufficient training capacity in the state” (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-1,100.02). Similarly, Rhode Island requires that some probation and parole officers become trainers in order to ensure the sustainability of the state’s training requirements.
Some state laws require that risk assessments be used while providing flexibility for the supervision agency to implement the tool as it sees fit. This flexibility is important for managing costs, ensuring safety, and allowing agencies to make adjustments and changes based on the latest research. By limiting how prescriptive the statute is, lawmakers provide agencies the ability to ensure that risk assessments are used appropriately and successfully.
Idaho requires the board of correction to create rules ensuring the use of risk assessments in setting conditions for parole supervision (Idaho Code § 20-224). The corrections department in Missouri must adopt a policy for administering risk and needs assessment tools to guide case management practices and supervision level (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 217.361). New Jersey law requires the use of a risk assessment to determine the level of supervision for parolees (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 30:4-123.52).