Risk and Needs Assessments in Prisons: Identifying High-Priority Needs for Using Evidence-Based Practices


As of 2017, 83 percent of state inmates and 49 percent of federal inmates released from U.S. prisons were rearrested within nine years and eight years, respectively. Implementing evidence-based rehabilitative interventions to reduce recidivism begins with valid risk and needs assessment (RNA) tools. In a prison setting, these tools allow staff to make informed decisions about inmates in their charge, but successfully implementing these tools can be challenging. Prison systems are highly complex, are often underresourced, and might lack the internal capacity to effectively implement RNAs in their operations. Furthermore, it can be difficult to change institutional culture to accept an evidence-based approach in an environment in which custody objectives are paramount.

To examine this issue, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), supported by the RAND Corporation in partnership with the University of Denver, hosted a two-day workshop to examine the use of RNA tools in prisons. During this meeting, four major themes were identified: organizational issues, the selection and implementation of RNA tools, the administration of assessments, and programming. Workshop participants called for additional training and guidance for leadership, evaluation of RNA tools, and research assessing the effectiveness of approaches to assessments and programming.

The research described in this report was prepared for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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