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Recent ICM Fellows papers look at the role of risk assessment tools in courts

December 7, 2022

By Bill Raftery

Risk assessment tools can be found in use in a variety of courts throughout the United States. They may focus on whether a person awaiting trial is likely to fail to appear or be subject to new criminal arrests (pre-trial risk assessment), or if the individual who has served their sentence is likely to recidivate/re-offend. Two recent research projects conducted by Fellows of the Institute for Court Management look at how these tools operate, function, and how courts can utilize them better.

Implementation of Pretrial Risk Assessments in Rural Nevada came out of a 2019 Nevada Supreme Court order directing the implementation of standardized pretrial risk assessment tools. Among the challenges in implementing this order was that rural courts often did not use these or any tools before the 2019 order. Such courts are often minimally staffed and do not operate 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week; therefore, the use of such tools may require additional resources. The research found that 33% of respondent courts indicated that defendants would be referred to pretrial or court services for completion of the pretrial risk assessment form and that 75% indicated that there is a plan to utilize the standardized pretrial risk assessment forms in compliance with the mandate. Among the report’s conclusions, rural courts that do not currently offer pretrial/court services should consider evaluating the feasibility of offering pretrial/court services, including the completion of standardized pretrial risk assessments.

Predictive Accuracy of the Youth Assessment Screening Instrument (YASI) in North Dakota examined the use of post-adjudication risk assessments. Here the question was not one of implementation but of accuracy:  was the YASI tool able to accurately predict recidivism in youth offenders? Prior academic research found that YASI had a small to moderate overall effect in correctly predicting recidivism. The ICM project, however, looked to expand on this work. Its findings regarding predicting recidivism were mixed. Low and moderate-risk youth recidivated at levels higher than the suggested range (there were not enough high-risk cases in the sample to make any determinations). Moreover, strengths, or protective factors, correlated with reduced recidivism for low-risk youth but not for moderate-risk youth.

These two papers are among the research publications available by the Institute for Court Management’s Fellows Program. Applications for the 53rd class of Fellows are now being accepted through March 2023. Additional research papers can be found in NCSC’s eCollection as well.

Is your court considering the use of risk assessment tools? Share your experiences with us. For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.