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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 FSA4
Funding Category
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $82,875)

Following passage of the First Step Act (FSA), the Attorney General, in consultation with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), were mandated to develop and implement a risk and needs assessment system. In 2020, the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN) was developed an implemented, with the intent of assessing recidivism risk and determining eligibility for early release time credits outlined by the FSA. Also mandated was the development of a dynamic, needs assessment system. Utilizing existing and validated assessment items and scales, the BOP developed Standardized Prisoner Assessment for Reduction in Criminality (SPARC-13), consisting of 13 domains – Anger/Hostility, Antisocial Peers, Cognitions, Education, Family/Parenting, Finance/Poverty, Medical, Mental Health, Recreation/Leisure/Fitness, Substance Use, Trauma, Work, and Dyslexia (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2022). The FSA mandates that both the PATTERN and SPARC-13 must be reviewed and validated on an annual basis. In 2021, NIJ consultants reviewed and reported on the findings from the PATTERN (U.S. Department of Justice, 2020). The current proposal similarly outlines a consulting research project for the evaluation and validation of the BOP’s SPARC-13 needs assessment system. This proposal represents a substantive departure from that of the PATTERN, in that the SPARC-13 is an assessment composed of 13 latent needs domains intended to be dynamically measured, with an indirect relationship with recidivism. Thus, unlike risk assessments, needs assessment scales must be assessed on a variety of metrics of reliability and validity, including internal content, convergent/divergent, latent structure, concurrent, predicative validity, and interrater reliability. To accomplish these goals, the current proposal outlines a series of statistical procedures required to assess the SPARC-13’s psychometric properties. Multiple samples are outlined for use, including the SPARC-13’s development sample (N=113,779), a prospective sample of individuals assessed following the 2020 implementation, a reassessment subsample, and a reentry subsample. Further, analyses will be completed to assess sex and race/ethnicity measurement invariance, as well as analyses exploring unwanted disparities among similarly classified prisoners. Given the consultant’s experience developing and evaluating risk and needs assessment tools and prior work meeting FSA reporting requirements, the proposed evaluation is described as ‘highly feasible’. Further, in evaluating and recommending potential improvements to the SPARC-13 the analyses and reporting completed will have substantial impact, ensuring the proper application and use of needs scales, provide accurate determination of programming eligibility, and help meet FSA objectives to reduce and sustain reductions of the BOP inmate population.

Date Created: September 27, 2022