THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on April 4, 2010, makes clear the “Risk Principle”, that establishes that high risk offenders do significantly better in correctional programs than low to medium risk offenders.
Reentry Courts, like other problem-solving courts, suffer from the reluctance of criminal justice practitioners and government leaders, to accept empirically established Evidence Based Practices. For example, some criminal justice practitioners have long been resistant to working with difficult high risk offenders that many programs are designed for, and instead use “risk assessments” to limit their programs to less challenging low risk offenders. Professor Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnatti, a national expert on residential correctional programs, has been at the forefront of the struggle to move criminal justice professionals and government leaders toward the adoption of Evidence Based Practices. To that end, he has written of the difficulties of changing criminal justice practices and policies to reflect established Evidence Based Practices (see Prof. Latessa’s comments).
Now comes a University of Cincinnati study, finding that low risk offenders have comparatively higher recidivism rates coming out of Ohio’s Residential Corrections Programs (such as half-way houses) than moderate to high risk offenders. The new data confirms their previous 2006 study (and the work of many other researchers). Their research reflects the well established “Risk Principle”, that offenders should be provided with supervision and treatment that are commensurate with their risk levels.
Professor Latessa points out that it is a waste of scarce resources to put low risk offenders into programs when they don’t need them, and when they would often do better and offend less at home, on probation or other limited monitoring protocols. [It should be noted that risk is not necessarily related to the seriousness of the offense committed, but the risk that the offender will reoffend].
Professor Lessora explains that low risk offenders have the connections to home, school, job, family and friends that define them as low risk, and enterring a residential corrections program can damage those connections, increasing their chances of reoffending. Further, that when housed together in residential corrections programs, high risk offenders often corrupt and influence the low risk offenders, once again increasing their recidivism rate. On the other hand, the recently released data shows moderate to high risk offenders often take advantage of the services and treatment offered at residential corrections programs, significantly lowering their recidivism rates; a good reason to challenge conventional wisdom, and carefully examining the applicability of Evidence Based Practices to your reentry court.