Using Risk/Needs Assessments in Reentry Services (Issue Brief)

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Using Risk/Needs Assessments in Reentry Services (Issue Brief)

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For two decades, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has invested substantial funding toward programs serving justice-involved individuals. Among its recent investments, DOL awarded over $243 million in Reentry Projects (RP) grant programs between 2017 and 2019 to improve participants’ employment and justice outcomes. DOL prioritized awarding grants to programs that were evidence-informed, and many went to experienced providers. They were awarded across a broad range of intermediaries and non-profit community-based organizations (CBOs) serving a total of 17,361 participants across 34 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. RP grants were 36-39 months long and were at different phases when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. RP grantees served a total of 9,098 adults (individuals over 24) and 8,263 young adults (individuals between ages 18 and 24) after their release from jail or prison.

In 2017, the Chief Evaluation Office, in collaboration with the Employment and Training Administration funded the Reentry Project Grants Evaluation. This implementation and impact evaluation aims to identify and evaluate promising practices used in reentry employment programs, which are comprehensive strategies to address the range of challenges formerly incarcerated adults and young adults who have been involved in the justice system face in making a successful transition back to the community.

This brief draws on literature on risk/needs assessments in the criminal legal system and grantee survey data collected from 89 CBOs that were awarded DOL’s RP grants from 2017 to 2019. It has four objectives: 1) describe how risk/needs assessments work, 2) detail which ones CBOs participating in the RP grants used, 3) discuss how reentry service agencies use them in offering employment-focused reentry services, and 4) describe three potential issues with using them and potential strategies for reentry employment agencies to mitigate them.

Key findings include:

  • Eighty-four percent of the CBOs participating in RP grants conducted participant risk/needs assessments, according to the grantee survey. The most common tools were those based on the Risk-Need-Responsivity framework (53 percent), the Resource Allocation and Service Matching tool (42 percent), the Integrated Risk and Employment Strategy tool (38 percent), and the Dynamic Risk and Needs Assessment (33 percent). Most CBOs used more than one risk assessment.
  • Among the RP CBO grantees surveyed, 98 of those that used a risk/needs assessment reported using the tool in their participant screening process and 85 percent in their Individual Development Plans.
  • When deciding whether and which risk/needs assessment to use, employment-focused reentry providers may consider strategies, such as selecting tools with clear algorithms, conducting proper training and local validations, and examining how risk categorization relates to the provider’s screening and service provision by race, ethnicity, and gender.