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Criminal Justice News Fall 2013 - Vol. 2, No. 2

Zachary Hamilton helps develop risk assessment tools for Department of Corrections

Prior to 1999, risk assessment in the state of Washington was not perceived as an overarching system goal. In 1999, the Offender Accountability Act (OAA) was enacted by the Washington State Legislature, which explicitly added a sentencing policy goal of reducing the risk of re-offending in the community and directed the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) to 1) classify felony offenders according to their risk for future offending, and 2) deploy a greater amount of resources to high-risk offenders. Quickly the WADOC adopted the LSI-R, as prior studies had indicated its validity for the stated purposes. Through a legislative directive, Dr. Robert Barnoski of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy evaluated the LSI-R in Washington, finding several issues regarding its predictive power. Specifically, a weaker than anticipated level of predictive accuracy was found overall in addition to a reduced accuracy for predicting general and violent felony offending, and a lack of statistical significance with regard to some domains after the inclusion of more potent items (i.e., criminal history). Following these discoveries, Barnoski set out to create a new risk assessment: The Washington State Static Risk Assessment (WS-SRA).

Our own Dr. Zachary Hamilton began working with Barnoski in 2010. Recently the WADOC sought to upgrade the system once again, adding relevant needs assessment components as well as increasing the instrument’s gender sensitivity. Hamilton was selected by the WADOC to lead this effort. This alone is a big step for the DCJC, as it secures our footing in the state of Washington and the WSICJ as the risk/needs assessment experts.

Hamilton has taken separate tools, combined them, and increased their predictive validity. He is now working to develop specific typology tools that predict prison infractions, sex offenses, violations, etc. Furthermore, the tools created have been validated to be more predictively accurate by comparison to some nationally recognized instruments.

In partnership with Assessments.com, a software platform, in July Hamilton presented the tools to DOC administration and the Secretary of DOC, Bernie Warner, who were considering different assessments (including LSI-R, ORAS, etc.). After this presentation, they made the quick and appropriate decision to contract with Assessments.com and WSU for the creation of these tools.

The DOC launched their new risk/needs assessment process effort during the week of October 21. The tool, entitled Static Risk Offender Needs Guide – Revised (STRONG-R), along with case management processes (EPICS), will be the foundation of all the work completed in both community and prison based corrections.

Currently in development, the entire STRONG-R system is set to roll out in January 2015. Because of Hamilton’s work, the DOC stands poised to become a national leader in risk/needs/responsivity work. Lastly, along with the risk assessment and other related research endeavors, Hamilton and WSICJ have brought in almost $500,000 contracts related to these projects.

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Washington State University