Feb 28, 2012

NY DOCCS Moves Toward Supervising Parolees by Risk Level

Reentry experts agree that "aligning level of intervention with the level of risk" for released offenders produces the best outcomes (as defined by the greatest risk reduction)".

Experts also agree that risk assessments of offenders using an actuarial tool that measures both static and dynamic risk, rather than judgement alone, offers a more accurate prediction of who will recidivate.

Based on these two principles, reentry "best practice" demands that an actuarial risk tool be employed to determine how intensively a returning offender should be supervised. For instance, research has shown that too much supervision of low risk offenders actually increases their risk of reoffending.

Historically, NY DOCCS (Division of Corrections and Community Supervision) has employed a static risk assessment ("DCJS Risk") to assign individuals being released to the community a risk level. The assessment looked at age, gender, and history of criminality to determine the risk of a parolee's recidivism. The assessment did not take into account the attitudes and beliefs of individuals leaving prison, one of the prime predictors of recidivism. Therefore, unless the individual had "aged out" of criminal activity, he/she was considered to be the same risk that he/she was prior to his/her prison term. Once released to the community, Field Parole Officers supervised all parolees similarly, independent of risk, until he/she got to know the client personally and made adjustments to the client's supervision mandates.

Now, DOCCS is in the midst of implementing some massive changes. As I learned at a County Reentry Task Force Meeting this past Friday, February 28, 2012, as of March 1, 2012, every individual being paroled from all NY DOCCS facilities will receive an actuarial risk assessment called "COMPAS Reentry." The COMPAS tool, created by Northepointe, Inc.,"a research and consulting firm, offering software products, training, and implementation services to local, state, and federal criminal justice systems and policy makers," measures standard risk factors in combination with reentry domains such as early onset of delinquency, history of non-compliance, occurrences of prison misconduct, substance abuse, the risk of housing problems, criminal thinking, etc. The COMPAS then calculates a client's risk of recidivism and risk of absconding, and offers a personalized client needs scale to parole officers and case managers that can be used to prioritize case planning and supervision.

NY DOCCS will be using the risk numbers produced the COMPAS tool to determine how intensively parolees will be supervised. DOCCS has created four risk level designations (Levels 1-4) that will be assigned to a parolee based on his/her COMPAS score. Each Bureau Chief across the state will determine how to divide up parolees on a PO's caseload using the risk levels. For instance, a Bureau Chief can determine that a PO will supervise only cases that are assigned one risk level. A high risk caseload may consist of 25 parolees, while the lowest risk caseload may consist of as many as 120 parolees. DOCCS did not give us an estimate regarding how long this transition to the level system will occur.

We also learned, that by statute, the Parole Board must now receive a risk assessment of every inmate that goes before them. This risk assessment will be the COMPAS.

One area of concern among Task Force representatives was whether DOCCS has plans to use the COMPAS to create the conditions of release for each parolee with the goal of targeting the unique needs and risks of each parolee. A common gripe among POs and other criminal justice practioners is that regardless of the unique life circumstances and needs of reentering populations, most parolees in the state are released with similar conditions. Although we weren't able to delve into this area, we are hopeful that this is the direction that DOCCS will take.