First Step Act – Risk and Needs Assessment System Update
As part of the First Step Act (FSA) implementation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system is required to perform assessments on all BOP inmates using the DOJ’s risk and needs assessment tool known as the Prisoner Assessment Tool targeting Estimated Risk and Need (PATTERN). The tool was released in July 2019. It is designed to measure risk of recidivism of inmates.
A press release by the DOJ stated that as of January 15, 2020, inmates will be assigned to participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs and productive activities based on an initial needs assessment conducted by BOP. Participation and completion of assigned programs and activities can lead to placement in pre-release custody or a 12-month sentence reduction under the FSA.
The DOJ made changes to PATTERN with coordination with the Independent Review Committee (IRC). These changes are intended to enhance the effectiveness, fairness, and transparency of PATTERN. The DOJ met with the IRC many times and held workshops to review public and stakeholder comment on the current PATTERN system.
Below are a list of some of the changes made to PATTERN from The First Step Act of 2018: Risk and Needs Assessment System – Update.
Adding Dynamic Factors and Removing Static Factors
The DOJ has placed an emphasis on a system that can accurately measure an inmate’s change during incarceration and provides opportunities for inmates to reduce their risk scores post-intake during periodic reassessments. The update to PATTERN now includes dynamic factors to assist BOP in identifying an offenders’ needs, determine the services and programming responsive to the needs, and determining more accurately an offender’s actual risk of recidivism. These new dynamic factors include a measure of offender’s “infraction free” period during his or her current term of incarceration and modifying programming measures by adding psychology treatment programs, the faith-based Life Connections Program, and the BOP’s Drug Education program to the “number of programs completed (any)” measure and combine technical/vocational and UNICOR into a new work programming measure.
Removed Certain Variables to Ensure that PATTERN is Fair and Accurate
The DOJ received statements that the criminal justice system discriminates against minorities and that PATTERN must avoid perpetuating or exacerbating racial disparities. In response, the DOJ removed or changed certain measures that might be associated with bias, especially racial bias, in order to implement the most fair and predictive tool possible. Age of first arrest/conviction and voluntary surrender were the two factors removed.
DOJ Considered Assigning More Weight to Dynamic Factors
Due to a concern that individuals were not moving from a higher to lower risk score, the DOJ tested PATTERN with the new dynamic factors added and provided examples on different scenarios to ensure that a person could move from a higher risk score to a lower risk score.
Clarifying the Terms “General” and “Violent” Recidivism
Lack of transparency and clarity regarding the terms “general” and “violent” recidivism were reported to DOJ. General recidivism is defined as a return to BOP custody or a re-arrest within three years of release from BOP custody, excluding all traffic offenses except driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. Violent recidivism is defined as a re-arrest for a suspected act of violence within three years of release from BOP custody. These terms mirror the definitions found in the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the DOJ has clarified that these definitions will be clearer moving forward.
Publishing the Annual Validation Data and Annual Recidivism Data
The DOJ reaffirmed its intention to publish results from the annual review and validation of the risk assessment system and recidivism data in its annual report. This will also include the programs completed by inmates. The report is due to Congress on December 18, 2020, two years from the date the FSA was passed into law.
This is just a snapshot of the changes that were included in the update to the PATTERN system. The full report goes into specific detail of each change or notation by the DOJ in response to certain criticisms.
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