Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Indiana’s New Risk Assessment Tools: What You Should Know

April 13, 2011 by Michelle Goodman , Lisa Thompson

Milestone Marked in Evidence-Based Sentencing Practices

The implementation of new risk/needs assessment systems for Indiana’s juvenile and criminal justice systems marked an important milestone during 2010-2011. These tools are designed to provide Indiana’s courts with information about an offender’s potential risks and needs, allowing trial courts to provide appropriate sentences, supervision and treatment services. The risk assessment tools enhance efforts to rehabilitate offenders, reduce recidivism, and increase public safety. Many stakeholders were involved in developing these tools for use in Indiana. This article will answer these questions: What are risk/needs assessment tools? Who was involved in their adoption for use in Indiana? Who will use these tools? How will they work?

In Indiana, as well as nationally, there has been a growing acceptance and use of evidence-based practices in sentencing adult and juvenile offenders. The foundation for implementing these practices requires the use of validated, actuarial risk assessment instruments. The term evidence-based practices refers to the use of empirical data derived through scientific research from juvenile and criminal justice systems which identify factors about an offender that provide an empirical assessment of the offender’s likelihood to reoffend and techniques and programs that have been proven effective in reducing such risks. Risk assessment instruments that focus on both risk and need factors can assist in creating proper supervision plans and appropriate service referrals by the supervising agency, including probation, parole, community corrections, problem-solving courts, Court Alcohol & Drug programs, and the Indiana Department of Correction.

Risk Assessment Task Force

Supervising agencies in Indiana have used a variety of risk assessment tools for several years. In 2006, key stakeholders formed the Risk Assessment Task Force, staffed by the Indiana Judicial Center, to promote a uniform and consistent risk assessment process across the relevant supervising agencies as a part of the continuing effort to implement evidence-based practices in Indiana. This task force includes representatives from the supervising agencies, a member of the judiciary, and staff of the Judicial Automation and Technology Committee (JTAC) with the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration. It continues to exercise oversight for this project.

Indiana adopts IYAS and IRAS

In 2008, the task force recommended that Indiana adopt two systems developed by the University of Cincinnati: the Indiana Youth Assessment System (IYAS) for juveniles and the Indiana Risk Assessment System (IRAS) for adults. These systems are designed to be used at key stages in the criminal justice process to help guide decisions, ascertain the appropriate allocation of resources and programs, measure changes in an offender’s risk and need factors during supervision, and improve public safety.

Following the recommendation to adopt the IYAS and IRAS, the task force began developing implementation policies for the assessment instruments. A key policy is that individuals who administer the assessments must be certified, which requires the completion of two-day training and a certification test. Also, there are minimum requirements for the administration of the assessments and the completion of case plans.

The Center for Criminal Justice Research at the University of Cincinnati has been integral in the development of a core group of individuals who conduct the certification training as well as development of the materials used in the training. Beginning in 2010 to the present, 740 juvenile system staff have attended 34 juvenile trainings, and 1708 adult system staff have attended 59 adult trainings conducted across the state. Supervising agencies began using the IYAS on October 1, 2010, and the IRAS on January 1, 2011.

The Risk Assessment Process

The assessment process includes: (1) a semi-structured interview with the offender, (2) a file review, and (3) the gathering of necessary collateral information. It is not just one item or factor that makes someone more or less likely to re-offend, but it is the combination of multiple factors in multiple areas. Factors in the assessment—referred to as domains—are the offender’s:

  • history with the justice system,
  • employment and education,
  • family and social support,
  • substance abuse and mental health,
  • peers, and
  • attitudes and behavioral patterns.

The assessment results provide an overall risk level and a risk level for each domain. Evidence-based practices research indicates that the most effective use of limited resources is to target individuals with high or moderate risk and need factors for more intensive supervision and services. These results assist the supervising agency in identifying the appropriate types of service or interventions needed to help reduce the individual’s risk for re-offense. This identification forms the basis of an individualized case plan outlining the goals and objectives for each need area and the interventions required to address those needs.

Indiana Supreme Court Decision Affirms Use of Risk Assessment Tools

In addition to being one of the first states to implement a system-wide risk assessment instrument, Indiana has also produced an important Supreme Court decision analyzing and affirming the use of such instruments. In June 2010, the Indiana Supreme Court decided Malenchik v. State, 928 N.E.2d 564, which focuses on the proper use of evidence-based assessment results. In writing the unanimous decision for the Court, Justice Brent Dickson confirmed that when sentencing individuals, judges could consider results of assessments conducted by the county probation department, Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) and Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI). The Court provided the framework necessary to assist trial courts in appropriately using the results of risk and need assessment instruments:

It is clear that neither LSI-R nor the SASSI are intended nor recommended to substitute for the judicial function of determining the length of sentence appropriate for each offender. But such evidence-based assessment instruments can be significant sources of valuable information for judicial consideration in deciding whether to suspend all or part of a sentence, how to design a probation program for the offender, whether to assign an offender to alternative treatment facilities or programs, and other such corollary sentencing matters. Id. at 573.

The Court stated that these instruments provide information based on extensive research and assist courts in crafting individualized sentencing schemes with a maximum potential for reformation consistent with Article I, Section 18 of the Indiana Constitution, which emphasizes the foundational importance of reformation as a goal of our penal code. The Court held that the assessment results are not intended to serve as aggravating or mitigating circumstances nor determine the gross length of a sentence, but can be used in formulating the manner in which a sentence is to be served. By using instruments such as the IRAS and IYAS, the sentencing judge has the ability to formulate and enforce an acceptable individualized case plan, which can assist in the offender’s rehabilitation.

JTAC, INcite, and Risk Assessment Tools

Creating an automated process for completing these assessments was another phase of the project implementation. Representatives from probation, community corrections, the Indiana Department of Correction, and the Indiana Judicial Center provided guidance to the JTAC staff in the development of electronic means for scoring and storing the results to the risk assessment tools. The automation of the risk assessment instrument was funded through a federal grant. The main objectives behind the development of the automated Risk Assessment Application were: (1) improve communication between criminal justice agencies, (2) contribute to continuity of services for offenders, and (3) store statewide aggregate data needed for revalidation of the tools. The Risk Assessment Application is part of the Indiana Supreme Court INcite framework which provides the pathway for numerous other automated applications used by the courts and state agencies.

Example Chart

EXAMPLE FROM INCITE. JTAC's Risk Assessment tool includes departmental summary charts like the one above, which aggregates data for one risk tool performed on many offenders by one agency over a specified time period. The chart highlights the areas that most contribute to recidivism for the agency's overall offender population and can assist a director or chief probation officer to determine programming needs and allocation of departmental resources.

After an individual user is certified, JTAC staff provides a password which will grant the user access to the INcite Risk Assessment Application. When an interview with an offender has been completed, the user will sign into the INcite application and answer the risk assessment questions based on information gathered. The offender information, risk assessment answers, specific domain scores, and overall assessment scores are stored in the system for future reference. Once that offender progresses to the next stage of the juvenile or criminal justice system, and another risk assessment is warranted, another user will be able to utilize the existing offender information and refer back to the previously completed risk assessment.

Users of the Risk Assessment Application receive a number of benefits:

  • The system and its maintenance are free to all agencies.
  • Criminal justice agencies using the risk assessment tools now have a single electronic means for scoring.
  • Important offender information is easily shared among users, resulting in improved communication.
  • Each entity using the application can build on existing information to gain the knowledge needed for appropriate offender supervision, rather than completing a new assessment at each phase of the system.
  • There is a reduction in duplication of work because system interfaces allow the transfer of risk assessment details from the Risk Assessment Application to an agency’s local case management system.
  • Supervisors or administrators of the Risk Assessment Application have the ability to analyze aggregate data for their agency and examine program effectiveness on reducing recidivism.
  • Since all offender data throughout the state is stored in one location, the data collection process necessary for periodic review and revalidation of the tools will be greatly simplified.
  • Users have immediate access to the most recent versions, documents, and instructions if any part of the IYAS or IRAS is modified after a revalidation period.

Indiana now has the most current risk assessment tools because of the work of the Risk Assessment Task Force in conjunction with the Probation Officers Advisory Board, the Judicial Conference’s Probation Committee, the Judicial Conference Board of Directors, the Indiana Judicial Center, the Department of Correction, State Court Administration’s JTAC staff, and our trainers.

Summit on Evidence-Based Practices scheduled for May 19, 2011 in Indianapolis

Judges, prosecutors, public defenders, chief probation officers, and community correction directors are invited to participate in a Summit on Evidence-Based Practices and Risk Assessment on May 19th in Indianapolis to learn more about how these principles and tools can improve youth and offender management in your community.

For more information about IYAS and IRAS, contact Michelle Goodman at or (317) 232-1313. For more information about JTAC’s Risk Assessment tool available on INcite, contact Lisa Thompson at or (317) 234-6586.