Offender assessment and case management

Research summary
Vol. 11 No. 2
March 2006


How can we improve the link between offender assessment and case management?


The assessment of an offender's risk to reoffend is a major preoccupation of correctional professionals. Such assessments are needed to ensure safety and security by guiding decisions on institutional placement, release decisions, and assigning appropriate levels of community supervision. The assessment of risk is usually conducted using evidence-based risk instruments.

Many risk assessment instruments also assess the needs of offenders. Assessing needs in a reliable way is helpful in delivering treatment programs for offenders and also, in the day-to-day management of the case. Thus, good offender assessment can be useful in more ways than assisting in decisions of safety. How best to make use of offender assessment for case planning and management requires ongoing development.


A comprehensive review of the offender risk assessment literature was conducted with special attention given to the relationship between assessment and case management.


There have been significant advances in the assessment of offenders. Over the past 20 years, assessment strategies have developed resulting in improvements to offender assessment instruments.

The first generation of offender assessment, widely practised in the 1950s to the late 70s, was unstructured judgements of offender risk. That is, the offender's risk to reoffend was based solely on professional judgements that turned out to be unreliable, often inaccurate and not helpful for case management. In the 1970s and 1980s, the field saw the development of risk instruments that were informed by evidence. These second generation instruments were reliable and provided better predictive accuracy. However, second generation risk scales are comprised mostly of static, immutable factors and provide little information about offender needs.

Third generation offender assessment instruments, commonly referred to as risk/need scales, became the standard in the 1990s and enjoy wide popularity today. Third generation risk scales include the assessment of offender needs and are designed to give information of what needs to be changed in order to reduce offender recidivism.

Today, there is a fourth generation of offender assessment instruments emerging. These new instruments not only assess offender risk and needs but also factors that are important in case management (e.g., the assessment of strengths). In addition, fourth generation instruments provide structured intervention plans for supervising offenders that arise from the assessment, something that third generation instruments did not do.

Policy implications:

  1. Given the evidence, the use of unstructured judgements of offender risk is not a defensible policy/practise.
  2. Special attention should be given to the assessment of offender needs and risk/need; third generation instruments are helpful in this regard.
  3. There is a need to make better use of offender assessment instruments by clarifying how the assessment is related to the supervision of offenders. Fourth generation assessments are promising in this regard.


For further information

James Bonta, Ph.D.
Corrections Research
Public Safety Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
Phone: 613-991-2831
Fax: 613-990-8295

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