Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice Projects

Corrections and Community Health

Risk-need assessment

Comparing Risk Assessment Methodologies

Offender risk assessment instrument methodology has progressed over the last 4 decades. The advancement of prediction, beginning with clinical knowledge/decision-making, was followed by static assessments, then advancing to the inclusion of dynamic and generally responsive instruments. Recent evolutions in actuarial research have revealed the potential of increased utility of machine learning and data mining strategies to develop statistical models such as classification/decision tree analysis and Neural Networks. These are said to mimic the decision-making of practitioners. The current project examines the improvement gained in predictive accuracy through perceived methodological improvements. Utilizing a large purposive sample of Washington State offenders (N=297,600), this study examines the predictive validity of the currently used Washington State Static Risk Assessment (SRA) instrument comparing its predictive validity to Classification Tree Analysis/Random Forest and Neural Network models.

Back to top.

Predicting sexual offending has become an increasingly important need for agencies in charge of release and supervision of reentering offenders. General offender recidivism prediction instruments (e.g. LSI-R) have not held the predictive validity desired. Specialized sex offender instruments (e.g. Static-99, RASOR, and SONAR) have noted limitations, such as: lack of analytic weighting, overreliance on static risk factors, or are too subjective to deliver reliable and valid results. Furthermore, many sex offender specific instruments have substantial item overlap with general offender recidivism prediction instruments, which duplicates labor demands of assessment teams and results in unnecessary slowing of data systems. The current project encompasses the development and implementation/training of a sex offender specific instrument (STRONG-S) to be incorporated as part of Washington State’s general offender prediction system (STRONG-R).
Research in Brief | pdf

Gender Specific Risk Assessment
In the past decade, research has identified a need to assess males and females differently. Specifically the risks and needs of female offenders have been shown to have substantial variations when compared to “gender neutral” assessments created previously. Sponsored in part by a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and partnering with the WADOC, WSU is currently creating and validating the STRONG-R risks/needs assessment with the goal of increasing the gender specificity of selected risks and needs items and weights.

Offender Typology
Currently, risk assessments are conducted to determine placement in a small set of categories (e.g. low, moderate, and high) formulated on a dimensional (continuous) scale. However, this type of categorization ignores key interactions among predictor variables. Latent Class Analysis is a more recently utilized method that attempts to take a seemingly heterogeneous sample of subjects and separate them into homogeneous subsamples based on similar characteristics. The current study attempts to create a typology of Washington State offenders reentering from incarceration. The study seeks to identify common “types” of offenders being released to the community, examine the interpretive and predictive value of a typological assessment and potential interactions of offender types with interventions and services.

Back to top.

Spatial Dynamics of Offender Risk
Risk assessment literature often notes the transitions of assessment tools through four generations; moving from clinical judgment, to static-only, to the inclusion of dynamic risk, and final provisional indications of general responsivity. Although little advancement has been observed in the methodologies or item selection of said tools, one area has been, for the most part, ignored among offender risk models. With regards to recidivism, where an offender returns represents an important component to consider. Recent advancements in spatial analysis methodologies have now made it possible to incorporate neighborhood-level factors that contribute to an offender’s success on community corrections supervision. The current project attempts to identify the relative impact of return location as an element of the currently accepted domains of offender risk assessment.

Predicting Technical Violations
The intended purpose and hope of the “technical violation” is that such a violation would act as an indicator of the person’s potential of committing a new crime. Parole revocations are grounded in the notion that technical violations are actually proxies of new criminal offenses – a notion that has yet to be sufficiently challenged. Using risk assessment predictors of new crime, we test the sensitivity and specificity of risk assessment variables using a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) in relation to the prediction of technical violations. By encompassing data from three Northwestern states, we offer a necessary investigation into the assumptions that drive risk assessment, treatment placement, and supervision plans.

Sex Offender Typology
This study examines the impact of victim-offender relationships on recidivism among child-victim sexually-based offenders. Building on the work of previous scholars, this study explores the development of specified victim-offender typology utilizing both the sex of the victim and the perpetrator. These typologies are then examined for differential recidivism outcomes. Advancing upon prior typologies, the study utilizes and differentiates between, both male and female offenders in an effort to provide a more complete profile. Furthermore, by operationalizing recidivism as newly committed sexually-based offenses, this study intends to more accurately predict predatory threats within the community. Policy implications for this study are aimed at improving the accuracy of risk assessments for sexually-based offenders who target children.

Assessment of Drug Court Participants
Prior findings have demonstrated that a non-structured use of clinical assessments can lead to idiosyncratic decision making, creating bias in the selection process. Risk and need assessment tools were created within the field of psychometrics to identify who is likely to fail or succeed. However, risk and needs assessment instruments do not make treatment recommendations as they are created for a general population and without knowledge of treatment availability for a given local. The current study uses the psychometric principles to create risk and need assessment instruments but directs these efforts toward specific responsivity. In particular, a three stage project development has begun, starting with the examination of predictors of (1) graduation and (2) failure, with the ultimate goal of combining findings of these initial studies to (3) create a risk assessment model specific to drug court treatment success. Our goal is that the instrument will improve selection of successful participants from the pool of eligible subjects, ultimately improving the effectiveness of drug courts.

WARNS Middle School Diagnostic Tool Pilot Study
Drs. Nicholas Lovrich and Paul Strand, along with Maureen Erickson (WSU Criminal Justice MA) are working on a follow-up project stemming from grant-funded research on truancy and dropout problems in Spokane County school districts. Funding came from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and then the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and entailed assessments of a restorative justice effort begun in 1997 in the West Valley School District after enactment of the state’s BECCA Bill. That law requires schools and juvenile courts to engage actively in the monitoring of school attendance and the filing of petitions to the courts to compel students and/or parents or guardians to comply with the state’s mandatory attendance statute. The West Valley School District leadership decided to reach out to its citizens, its community-based groups, its non-profit organizations and its public service agencies to join in a common effort to create an alternative to court processing for truant youth in the form of a Community Truancy Board (CTB). A Models for Change grant was awarded to WSU researchers by the Foundation to support the development of a “replication tool kit” for school districts wishing to adopt the process. The Spokane Public Schools (SPS) replicated the CBT concept for their high schools, and the Mead School District did likewise for all grades. Soon after the end of the Mac Arthur Foundation funding the SPS, the Spokane Regional Health District, Greater Spokane Inc., and the Spokane County Juvenile Court collaborated in a grant funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to test out the possibility of earlier intervention (middle school) before a BECCA filing would take place for at risk students.

One aspect of the CTB process which proved to be very important was the use of the Washington Assessment of Risk and Needs of Students (WARNS) diagnostic tool at the end of the CTB session. That instrument is normed for high school students and possesses both very strong psychometric qualities and excellent reliability. SPS is interested in determining if an “ysWARNS” (young student WARNS) could serve as a helpful follow up tool in the CAST process. Lovrich, Strand and Erickson are working with two middle school administrators, a juvenile court probation officer who was intimately involved in the development of the WARNS tool, and the CAST program director to conduct a pre-test of the ysWARNS in two middle school settings. If the pre-test proves successful the WSU team will ask for approval from SPS to conduct a pilot test of ysWARNS in two middle schools during the coming Fall school term – provided IRB approval (human subject research review) to proceed is granted. Legislation is pending which would make the WARNS instrument a required step in BECCA cases, and would also require the collection of information on any subsequent interventions made for students referred to the court for a BECCA violation. This would be a major step toward evidence-based practice in truancy cases. The ysWARNS would be a very useful tool indeed should this proposed legislation gain passage.

Back to top.

Assessment of the Civilly and Forensically Committed
This project focuses on the development and creation of a risk assessment to predict a variety of outcomes (i.e. hospitalizations, recidivism and commits) following the release from civil commitments. Sponsored by the Washington State Legislature and working in cooperation with the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), the project seeks to examine the relative risk and associated needs that impact those released from state custody following a civil commitment. With the goal of creating a risk assessment tool, WSU seeks to provide an instrument that will assist assessment providers and policy makers with needed information at the time of release from custody.

Washington State Institute for Public Policy Report | pdf

Podcast- Predicting Criminal Behavior Through Risk Instruments

Back to top.

Validation of the Positive Achievement Change Tool (PACT)
Funded by the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, this project is an expansive endeavor to combine collected static risk and dynamic items into a consolidated system of recidivism assessment and intervention recommendations. The outcome of this study will produce a validated risk assessment with superior performance for predicting juvenile offending within the state of Washington. This is a one-year project for $19,086.

PACT Research Brief

Back to top.

Assessing the Behavior and Needs of Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in Washington State Prisons: Establishing a Foundation for Policy, Practice, and Education
In partnership with the Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Advisory Council, WSU researchers are assessing incarcerated Veterans of the United States Armed Forces within Washington state prisons to determine whether traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects an individual’s prison experience, and in turn, one’s chances of success upon release from prison. Recent research indicates that an estimated 16% of Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) incarcerated veterans have experienced a moderate or severe TBI compared to 7.6% of the general inmate population, yet little more is known about these veterans and how they experience prison (Phillips, 2013). WSU researchers are examining individuals’ institutional behaviors, uses of medical services, and abilities to participate in offender change programs geared toward increasing prosocial behavior and reducing recidivism. This research will provide a foundation from which to build effective policy and evidence-based practice through a better understanding of incarcerated veterans with a TBI.

Back to top.


Parenting Sentencing Alternative
The Washington State Legislature passed the Parenting Sentencing Alternative (PSA) in 2010. PSA provides nonviolent offenders with minor children two alternatives to total confinement. The Community Parenting Alternative is for currently incarcerated offenders, while Family Offender Sentencing Alternative is offered in lieu of incarceration by a judge. Both are designed to reduce intergenerational incarceration by decreasing the trauma children experience when their parent is incarcerated, as well as ease the parent’s reentry process to restore the family unit and reduce recidivism. This research will provide the Department of Corrections and other interested stakeholders with process and outcome evaluations to ensure the PSA is evidence-based, is meeting its desired objectives, and is reducing recidivism among participants.
Research in Brief | pdf

In the last ten years, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) has marked a series of advancements, from a standard “off-the-shelf” instrument (LSI-R), to a static-only instrument with improved predictive validity (SRA), and finally the addition of a needs assessment tailored to the Washington State offender population (STRONG). The current project is an expansive endeavor to combine collected static risk and dynamic items into a consolidated system of prediction instruments – prison infraction, recidivism and violations. To improve gender sensitivity, models are created separately for males and females. Partnering with software application specialists (, this project will span the development and implementation/training of the revised version of WADOC’s Static Risk and Offender Needs Guide assessment system (STRONG-R).
Report of Effectiveness | pdf
Read more information on the risk assessment here: “Offender Risk Assessment” on the Corrections Forum

Washington State Department of Corrections Evidence-Based Practices Prison Pilot Project
This study is focused on determining the effectiveness of two prisoner pilot rehabilitation programs currently in operation by the Department of Corrections (DOC) in two Eastern Washington facilities. 130 inmates in each facility receive specialized treatment modalities, including Core Correctional Programming and Thinking for a Change. This study entails a process evaluation and outcome evaluation. The process evaluation includes observation of treatment sessions (to ensure proper implementation), and focus groups with inmates and staff. The outcome evaluation compares program participants to a matched comparison group, to measure differences in grievances, and minor/major infractions. The project measures outcomes for two separate cohorts of inmates, spanning a two year period.
Research in Brief | pdf

Back to top.

Courts and Sentencing

Expedited Case Resolution

Prison Transfers and Violence
The prison transfers project introduces a new theory of inmate misconduct following the transfer of inmates between correctional institutions. Existing theory suggests that the immediate institutional environment and community environment from which inmates are imported influence infractions in the prison setting. This research proposed a third influence on infractions, namely the prison environment from which inmates are transferred out of having a lasting influence on misbehavior. Evidence supports the new theory, suggesting that inmates transferred from larger institutions with higher infraction rates, and to facilities with a different custody rating, commit more infractions following a transfer.

Expedited Case Resolution
Faced with a backlog of cases, significant court delay, and an overcrowded jail, in 2008 the Spokane County Superior Court instituted a differentiated case management system titled the Expedited Case Resolution program (ECR). Under the ECR, seemingly non-complex Class B and C felonies were identified for expedited processing cases with the aim of adjudicating them in 1/3 of the time seen for traditionally handled cases. Since its inception, the court has not achieved its desired outcomes. As the program has yet to be evaluated, reasons behind the program’s failure are unknown. The current project will entail a comprehensive evaluation of the ECR program as well as related positive and negative impacts it has had on the criminal justice system and community.

Assessment of Drug Court Participation
Statutory Analyses

State Statutory Analysis Series Project
Drs. Hemmens and Stohr are putting together a group of research projects and papers for the Institute that will involve many of our graduate students and faculty. The project is called the State Statutory Analysis Series and so far includes the projects listed below. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact either Dr. Craig Hemmens or Dr. Mary Stohr directly.

  • Felon civil rights statutes
    • Participants: Michael Campagna, Cheyenne Foster, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Death certification statutes
    • Participants: Leah Ruiz, Brianne Posey, Melanie Neuilly, Mary Stohr, Craig Hemmens
  • Teacher sexual misconduct statutes
    • Participants: Mia Abboud, Guangzhen Wu, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Videotaping of interrogations statutes
    • Participants: Duane Stanton, Brandon Bang, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Juvenile right to counsel statutes
    • Participants: Ruibin Lu, Jacqueline van Wormer, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Juvenile justice code purpose clauses
    • Participants: Eunsuhk Choi, Nick Pimley, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Probation officer functions (adult)
    • Participants: Ming-Li Hsieh, Moana Hafoka, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Probation officer functions (juvenile)
    • Participants: Ming-Li Hsieh, Youngki Woo, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Victims rights and compensation
    • Participants: Gassan Abess, Francis Boateng, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Statutory rape laws/definitions
    • Participants: Andrea Walker, Amber Morczek, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Security guard requirements and regulations
    • Participants: Jason Dunbar, Leah Ruiz, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr
  • Correctional officer sexual misconduct statutes
    • Participants: Xiaohan Mei, John Turner, Craig Hemmens, Mary Stohr

Back to top.

Spokane County Behavioral Health Therapeutic Drug Court Evaluation Project
WSU researchers are conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the Spokane County Behavioral Health Therapeutic Drug Court to determine the effectiveness of enhancing the drug court program by training staff in trauma informed principles, addition of a risk/needs assessment tool and offering the evidence-based Thinking for a Change program. The goal of this research and program enhancement is to increase public safety by decreasing criminality and substance abuse in Spokane County among felony offenders with substance abuse and/or mental illness. WSU researchers are conducting both a process and outcome evaluation, and the core focus of the outcome evaluation is determining if drug court participants remain crime free, complete treatment at greater rates than individuals who participate in the traditional system, and the impact of drug court participation on use of other social and health services (and implications of these changes).

Back to top.

Policing and Security

Cyber Crime