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First Step Act: Review and Revalidation of the Bureau of Prisons Needs Assessment System

Award Information

Award #
GS-00F-219CA DJO-NIJ-16-G-0127 FSA3
Funding Category
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $97,500)

In response to the requirements of the 2018 First Step Act (FSA), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) implemented a risk and needs assessment system in 2020. Whereas the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN) was created to assess recidivism risk, the Standardized Prisoner Assessment for Reduction in Criminality (SPARC-13) was designed to assess the criminogenic needs of people confined in BOP facilities. The BOP convened a needs assessment symposium in September 2019 that included representatives from the BOP, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Independent Review Committee (IRC), academic scholars, and correctional leaders. The SPARC-13 has content validity because it was developed on the basis of input from these subject matter experts. The validity of an assessment instrument, however, contains other important components, including convergent, divergent, internal latent structure, concurrent and predictive validity. The proposed research will evaluate the SPARC-13 on these dimensions of validity, initially on the 155,551 individuals who were assessed on it during fiscal year (FY) 2021 for the report due at the end of 2022. For subsequent reports due in 2023 and 2024, the sample for validating the SPARC-13 will expand to individuals assessed after FY 2021. The proposed research will use established methods such as exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to evaluate the convergent/divergent validity of the SPARC-13 and its internal latent structure. Given that the PATTERN has shown that it accurately predicts recidivism for the BOP population, the concurrent validity analyses will examine the association between the PATTERN and SPARC-13. The predictive validity analyses will evaluate how well the domains on the SPARC-13 predict recidivism, although this set of analyses will likely be limited to a subset of assessed individuals who were released before the end of FY 2021. The proposed research will also focus on a subset of individuals initially assessed on the SPARC-13 during FY 2021 who have been reassessed. This set of analyses will examine the extent to which scores change for the dynamic domains on the SPARC-13. Moreover, the proposed research will evaluate whether participation in, or completion of, BOP programs has a statistically significant impact on changes in SPARC-13 scores from initial assessment to reassessment. The proposed research for this project will also examine whether the validity of the SPARC-13 varies by gender, race and ethnicity. The potential impact of this project on the BOP and, more broadly, the corrections field is substantial. The findings from this project will help determine whether the SPARC-13 can be enhanced and, if so, what the modifications should be that would improve its performance. In addition to helping identify which BOP programs and interventions are effective in reducing SPARC-13 scores, the results can also indicate whether the BOP may lack the interventions or programming resources to address one or more criminogenic needs.

Date Created: September 27, 2022