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High Risk Offenders
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 10/16/2017

Shackledfeet sm The definition for high risk offenders will vary from state to state. This also pertains to offenders in jail; prisons at the state, federal, private levels, and those offenders released and on community supervision. The security level is often determined by different assessments, and if the offender is a threat to the safety and good order of the institution. This information is also classification action. The offender will be reviewed by the classification committee where the offender will be classified by risk, sentence and type of crime, prior incarceration, threat to the institution or other inmates, threat to the safety of officers, etc. Again, qualifying factors will vary. The risk assessment is a tool used to determine criminal risk factors and specific needs of the offender. The risk needs assessment can be controversial at times. Some in corrections feel the assessment should be made by clinical staff. Research conducted by Latessa and Lovins reflects: “Even with large data sets and advanced analytical techniques, the best models are usually able to predict recidivism with about 70% accuracy.” You can draw your own conclusions as to the overall effectiveness.

Those individuals working in corrections may have access to recidivism rates not only for the risk needs assessment, but also for general release. These assessments can also help with determining an offender’s eligibility for unit of assignment, consideration for release to the community upon sentencing and/or release from prison back into the community, and other. The assessment also allows for additional allocation of resources.

We also need to consider, some of the public are opposed to any type of release and adamant about the offenders serving their time incarcerated. Identify factors to consider if an offender should have their risk level adjusted back on a variety of factors, mainly institutional adjustment and other considerations. Then again, what other factors should be used in determining a higher or lower risk. We also need to ask ourselves should there be a mechanism to override the results? If so, who should this be and justification for this. Should a high risk offender be eligible for a less security level? Again, consider your thoughts. At the same time, we have to consider any legal challenges and/or court rulings.

The National Institute of Justice released on September 20, 2017 a research study titled: Intensive Supervision for High-Risk Probationers in California. This report was rated as No Effects. The following information below contains the Evaluation Outcomes:

Study 1: “Overall, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) program did not significantly and consistency improve outcomes for the treatment group. Rearrests: While Petersilla and Turner (1992) found that the ISP group in Ventura County was significantly less likely to be arrested, there were no statistically significant differences at the other two sites (Contra Costa and Los Angeles Counties). When controlling for time at risk, there were no statistically significant differences at any site.

Technical Violations: The treatment group in Contra Costa was more likely to have a technical violation, compared with the control group. However, this result may be due to increases in the supervision and monitoring of the treatment group. There were no statistically significant differences at the other two sites (Ventura and Los Angeles Counties).”

Something I found interesting was supervision costs comparisons:

Contra Costa Intensive Supervision (ISP): $7,240 on average per participant;
$4,923 for routine probation

Ventura County: $8,548 on average per participant;
$9,606 for routine probation

Los Angeles County: $8,902 on average per participant;
$7,123 for routine probation.

There are a variety of reasons for this; increased costs for ISP supervision; no information for caseload size; what are the ISP Levels, etc. Since we do not have access to the questions, were there any positive results and were the researchers able to identify what and why; suggestions to improve; type of research tool used; etc.

Some areas to consider for incarceration and costs associated with High-Risks Assessment; does high-risk assessment cost justify use of the assessment? Are any risk factors associated with race? What does high risks represent? If an offender’s case is plea bargained for a lesser charge, do we run the risk of a high risk offender’s original case assessment becoming skewed? Should certain inmates be excluded from earning additional time credits? Should risk assessment be incorporated into sentencing? Should there be a decreased focus on punishing offenders?

As you can see more questions are raised than answers. The questions I posed are for your consideration. By no means are these the only questions. Additional research is necessary to see what types of classification systems are in place and the types of high-risk assessments in place.

Best regards and stay safe.


Edward J. Latessa and Brian Lovins, “The Role of Offender Risk Assessment: a Policy Maker Guide,” Victims and Offenders, vol. 5, 2010, p. 212.

Program Profile: Intensive Supervision for High-Risk Probationers in California

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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