Few ideals have greater traction in current discourse than “evidence-based practice.” According to this ideal, the best research informs practice that improves outcomes. Beyond state budget cuts, two bodies of research are fueling a strong movement toward evidence-based corrections. First, research has established that using validated, structured tools significantly improves professionals’ ability to predict future criminal behavior. Increasingly, these tools are being applied in response to regulations that require specialized assessments to identify “high risk” individuals for detention or “low risk” individuals for release. Second, research suggests that correctional programs reduce recidivism when they (a) match the intensity of services and supervision to an offender’s level of risk, and (b) target risk factors for crime (e.g., procriminal attitudes) rather than variables that are less crime-relevant (e.g., low self esteem). Increasingly, companies are marketing tools for corrections agencies ostensibly include changeable risk factors and inform risk reduction efforts.
The mission of the California Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is to protect public safety, partly by providing youth with “a range of training and treatment services” that could help them desist from crime. Recently, DJJ purchased the California-Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (CA-YASI) to help structure its decision-making about, and treatment of, youth. Among tools currently on the market, the CA-YASI is appealing option for reducing risk because it ostensibly taps dynamic, or changeable, factors that reliably predict recidivism.
In this court-mandated, independent evaluation, we will assess whether the CA-YASI is a good tool for making placement and release decisions (i.e., assessing risk), identifying supervision and intervention targets (i.e., identifying criminogenic needs), and capturing change in risk over time. Our specific aims are to (a) examine the extent to which DJJ staff are able to reliably score the CA-YASI, (b) evaluate how well the CA-YASI assesses risk factors it purports to assess (e.g., substance abuse; criminogenic atttitudes), and (c) assess the utility of this tool in predicting future infractions and re-arrest.
This project is funded by: