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Implementing Risk and Needs Assessment - NIJ Juvenile Justice Research Spotlight

Christopher Sullivan, Professor, University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice

Dr. Sullivan discusses his research to understand implementation procedures and practice in the juvenile justice system that facilitate adoption of these tools and their appropriate use.

What are your general research interests and areas of focus?

I tend to study juvenile delinquency and the response to it from the standpoint of age development, and then youths' interaction with the juvenile justice system, and how, in turn, the system can better respond to both the risks and needs.

What are your primary goals for risk and needs assessments in juvenile justice research?

The goals of our research in that area were to, and are to, understand implementation procedures and practice in the juvenile justice system that facilitate adoption of these tools and their appropriate use. And then, also, to identify barriers and potential obstacles to implementing those tools in practice, and then from there, looking at how they're used in given cases. And then, in turn, how that impacts youth, both from the standpoint of further juvenile justice involvement and other developmental outcomes.

What are the key findings of your juvenile justice line of research?

Key findings of my line of research in juvenile risk and needs assessment are that generally practitioners see these tools favorably. However, there are a number of strategies that could be used to improve the implementation and sustainability of their use in practice in order to make improved decision-making around individual youths' cases, to better their outcomes.

Can you share some implications of your research for policy and practice?

The implications, on the implementation side, are that there is a favorable, generally favorable, climate for adopting these tools and for implementing them in the juvenile justice system to improve youths' outcomes. However, there are also areas in training, in implementation strategy, that we could improve in order to ensure that tools are not only adopted, but they're used effectively, efficiently, and fairly.

What do you hope academics, practitioners, and the public take away from discussions on risk and needs assessments?

I hope that academics will look at the discussion in our study and see that there needs to be a broader research agenda around juvenile risk and needs assessment to understand questions beyond simply whether there's an association between what we obtain in risk and needs assessment and recidivism, to better understand implementation and usage in practice. And with practitioners and the public, it's to really understand that these can be a valuable tool for improving decision-making in individual cases and then across agencies, but there needs to be a concerted effort and thoughtfulness in implementing them.

How has working with NIJ helped your efforts to research juvenile justice issues?

So working with NIJ and OJJDP has given us the resources to go out to a number of agencies, and talk to people in the field who are using and implementing these tools. And get their perspectives on what is working, and what could use improvement, which has been beneficial in identifying some strategies to implement these tools effectively.

Date Created: May 21, 2020