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Optimizing Risk & Needs Assessments for State & Local Jurisdictions - NIJ Juvenile Justice Research

Speakers
Zachary Hamilton, Associate Professor, University of Nebraska - Omaha

Dr. Hamilton discusses his research on risk assessment, needs assessment, and responsivity, examining how the interaction between adults' and juveniles' predictors impact their likelihood of recidivism — and the programming and services that are provided for each.

What are your general research interests and areas of focus?

My general research areas include risk assessment, needs assessment, and responsivity, examining how the interaction between adults' and juveniles' predictors impact their likelihood of recidivism—and the programming and services that are provided for each.

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

The primary goals of my research are to optimize risk and needs assessments. Oftentimes, tools are created for an off-the-shelf version. My work tries to optimize tools to make them more beneficial and more accurate for the local agency.

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

Key findings are that you are able to increase the accuracy of tools by taking small steps. And by taking these small, incremental steps, such as making a gender-specific tool. Or trying to predict specific outcomes, such as violent or domestic violence, or sex offending, or even trying to add more advanced statistical algorithms. You're able to slowly improve the accuracy of a tool, and those cumulative effects end up having a pretty sizeable impact.

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

The implications of this research is that the original assessment that an individual creates or adopts off the shelf can be modified to meet the needs of an agency. And when those needs are met, the tool becomes more accurate, you get more stakeholder buy-in, and the utility of that tool tends to ripple down through the agency so that staff are more likely to use it, and adopt its practices.

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

I hope other academics take away that there are multiple ways to create a risk assessment and that what we're looking at is trying to predict recidivism. And recidivism is not a standard psychological condition. It varies from place to place, and agency to agency. And instead of trying to standardize across those differences, if you harness those differences to make a more accurate tool, you get better results.

What further research, development, and collaboration is needed for juvenile justice issues?

This is the first start. It's a very big start, but more research is definitely needed to expand samples, to make sure that there's more of a comprehensive understanding of how risk assessment and needs assessment are applied, within each given state, and to further expand upon the variations that we've identified in this initial study.

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

Working with NIJ and OJJDP allowed me to elevate the standard of what I'm doing. We were able to go from identifying two or three states' worth of data to expanding beyond ten.  And that larger impact will ultimately have a larger impact of the results on the field.

Date Created: May 21, 2020