As efforts to reverse mass incarceration increase, so does the need to supervise more individuals in the community. In the face of increasing demand, corrections agencies are increasingly using risk assessment to allocate supervision and treatment resources efficiently and to improve public safety. A new study examined the time individuals spent without being arrested or returned to prison, looking at the relationship between time to non-recidivism in a community and recidivism among individuals under the supervision of parole in Pennsylvania. The study concluded that those assessing parole risk should incorporate information about recidivism-free time.
The study, conducted by researchers from Merrimack College and the University of Maryland, appears in Justice Quarterly, published by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.
“Many agencies use risk assessment as part of reforms to reduce the cost and size of the correctional population,” says Nicole Fresh Scott, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, who co-authored the study. “The increasing use of actuarial risk assessment tools in community corrections allows agencies to manage resources based on individuals’ level of recidivism risk and intervention needs. A notable absentee from these assessments is the consideration of the amount of time an individual remains free of recidivism.”
Research on crime has long noted that past criminality or lack thereof predicts future criminal behavior. Recidivism-free time is not associated with any crime-related needs or treatments, and does not require tools for measurement. In this study, the researchers sought to determine whether regression-free time could contribute to risk prediction.
Examining data from Pennsylvania, which uses a dynamic risk assessment tool, the researchers analyzed 25,000 individuals who were released on parole from state prisons between January 2006 and December 2008. Those released were reassessed annually. Recidivism-free time was defined as the amount of time the parolee remained in the community without re-arrest or re-arrest.
They found that thinking about recidivism-free time explains part of the recidivism changes over time, beyond risk assessment scores. Therefore, consideration of regression-free time may improve risk prediction independent of annual or initial risk assessment scores. The study also found that repeated assessments of parole risk with individuals remaining in the community predicted recidivism more accurately than individual pre-release risk assessment scores.
The study authors suggest that looking at a time without recidivism may be more useful for agencies that assess risks once rather than recurring them. While repeated assessments using a dynamic risk tool seem to predict recidivism well, there is more room for improvement when only risk is measured prior to release from prison.
“Our study results demonstrate the value of recidivism-free time and suggest its usefulness in decisions about parole supervision and termination, along with traditional risk assessments,” says Kiminori Nakamura, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland, who was involved in the study. “Our findings also support the use of annual assessments over pre-release risk assessments, because the former includes more information and captures the variance in expected recidivism. Given that recidivism-free time independently predicts recidivism, release boards may wish to conditional on completing the risk outcomes with this information.”
The authors note that the study did not test the mechanisms underlying the observed relationship between recidivism-free time and diminished risk, suggesting that compositional changes between participants (eg, more first-time inmates, fewer individuals who committed drug and property offenses). Changing life conditions (suggested by reductions in annual risk assessment scores) may explain the deteriorating pattern of recidivism.
Furthermore, the data in this study is limited to parole individuals in Pennsylvania, which has the second largest number of people on parole in the state, so the findings may not and may not apply to states that use more parole and supervision restrictions . Be applicable to states that use tools other than the specific risk assessment tool used in Pennsylvania.
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Time for a change: Examining the relationships between recidivism-free time, recidivism risk, and risk assessment. Justice Quarterly (2021).
Submitted by the Crime and Justice Research Alliance
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