Chapter 5: Case Assessment, Classification, and Management
Rationale for Case Assessment, Classification, and Management

Gottfredson (1987:10-11) states:

Decision-making applications in criminal justice can be said to be of two kinds, namely, institution policy decisions and individual decisions . . . . Planning problems often require estimates of outcomes of criminal justice decisions, including predictions of the persons who, in a given category, will have their probation or parole revoked, or who will not commit crimes at a high rate after release from confinement, or who may reasonably be expected to be paroled at first eligibility. Administrators may require estimates of the incarceration rates . . . of various categories of offenders. And in the long run they often require . . . estimates . . . [of the] effects . . . of differential handling for purposes of treatment or control.

Gottfredson further talks of individual decisions, especially those that may involve an offender's confinement or determine the context of supervision and interventions with that person. His statement helps explore the complex reasons for case assessment, classification, and management. Assessment and classification often address multiple levels of decisionmaking, ranging from the individual juvenile, to the program or agency, and even to the wider jurisdictional level. Not only do assessment and classification occur at each level, but the way they are implemented and the results of the procedures are often interwoven among the various components and tiers of the juvenile justice system.

Palmer (1984) asserts that the purpose of justice system intervention includes both socially centered and offender-centered goals. The socially centered goal is to modify a youth's behavior so it conforms to the law and therefore promotes the protection of society. To do this, however, offender-centered goals must be achieved, resulting in modification of the offender's behavior and a better adjustment between the youth and his or her environment. Therefore, the most appropriate fit between the offender's risks and needs and treatment resources must be achieved. Palmer claims that assessment and classification should both predict and prescribe the needs and treatment approaches best suited for a youth.

Juvenile crime presents diverse risks to public safety and the well-being of citizens. To address these risks and protect the public and the youth involved, varying levels of resources are required. As depicted in the first three vignettes at the beginning of this chapter, the backgrounds, offenses, and needs of youth in the juvenile justice system differ widely. Ideally, each jurisdiction has an array of services designed to intervene appropriately with each youth, ranging from prevention to aftercare services. OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders identifies a continuum of juvenile justice interventions and sanctions needed to constitute a comprehensive system (Wilson and Howell, 1993), including the following:

  • Prevention.

  • Early intervention.

  • Immediate assessment of and intervention with first-time and nonviolent offenders.

  • A range of intermediate sanctions for first-time violent and repeat property and drug offenders.

  • Steadily escalating sanctions, security, and treatment for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders.

  • Small, secure facilities for chronic or violent offenders.

  • Graduated and comprehensive aftercare services.

A process of assessment and classification is essential for matching offenders' risks and needs with the appropriate type of services along this continuum. Two fundamental reasons for using a formal assessment and classification system are asserted. They are (National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 1997:4; Wiebush et al., 1995:174):

  • Providing greater validity, structure, and consistency to the assessment and decisionmaking processes.

  • Allocating limited system resources more efficiently by targeting the most intensive/intrusive interventions on the most serious, violent, and chronic offenders.

In addition, as stated by Gottfredson (1987), programming and policy decisions often depend on assessment and classification procedures. Resources are always limited, and classification systems help channel youth into the least restrictive, least intrusive, and usually least expensive program resources that reasonably can be expected to control and change their behavior and protect the public. Within programs, youth often need to be divided into groups based on similarity of needs. Then, each group is provided with similar services that can be expected, within reasonable limits, to produce the desired outcome. Classification also helps programs and jurisdictions identify youth with greater and lesser potential for continued involvement in the criminal justice system. Such information makes possible more effective planning to prepare sufficient program resources for youth. Finally, program evaluation is connected to assessment and classification. Once youth are directed to the appropriate programs and subgroups within programs, it is expected that the socially centered and offender-centered goals will be achieved successfully. Program outcomes can be measured for program evaluation, and if necessary, program components can be adapted to more closely accomplish these goals.

Peters (1988:1) summarizes the rationale for case assessment and classification by saying, ". . . a supervision classification system is the agency's primary mechanism for organizing staff and other agency resources, [and] it is the central tool for implementing supervision policy and making [the] agency mission operational."

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Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package for Juvenile Corrections Report - December 2000