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Knowledge Brief: Can Risk Assessment Improve Juvenile Justice Practices?

Published Dec 1, 2011, Models for Change Research Initiative

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A growing number of juvenile justice experts are suggesting a new, potentially more effective approach to reducing recidivism: first identify a youth’s risk of re-offending; then match services to his or her specific risk factors and responsiveness to specific types of interventions. This study examined the implementation of risk/needs assessment tools in six juvenile probation offices in two states, and what effects it had on the practices of the probation officers. The researchers found that probations officers using these tools did take risk factors into account in their recommendations for individual youths, leading them to seek the least restrictive but still appropriate disposition for each youth. In most of the sites, this led to lower levels of supervision for low-risk youths and more intensive services for high-risk youths. Thus far, the decreased use of resources has not resulted in increased re-offending.

This brief is one in a series describing new knowledge and innovations emerging from Models for Change, a multi-state juvenile justice initiative. Models for Change is accelerating movement toward a more effective, fair, and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating replicable models that protect community safety, use resources wisely, and improve outcomes for youths. The briefs are intended to inform professionals in juvenile justice and related fields, and to contribute to a new national wave of juvenile justice reform.


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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.

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