• Journal Article

Performance of recidivism risk assessment instruments in U.S. correctional settings


Desmarais, S. L., Johnson, K. L., & Singh, J. P. (2016). Performance of recidivism risk assessment instruments in U.S. correctional settings. Psychological Services, 13(3), 206-22. DOI: 10.1037/ser0000075, 10.1037/ser0000075


With the population of adults under correctional supervision in the United States at an all-time high, psychologists and other professionals working in U.S. correctional agencies face mounting pressures to identify offenders at greater risk of recidivism and to guide treatment and supervision recommendations. Risk assessment instruments are increasingly being used to assist with these tasks; however, relatively little is known regarding the performance of these tools in U.S. correctional settings. In this review, we synthesize the findings of studies examining the predictive validity of assessments completed using instruments designed to predict general recidivism risk, including committing a new crime and violating conditions of probation or parole, among adult offenders in the United States. We searched for studies conducted in the United States and published between January 1970 and December 2012 in peer-reviewed journals, government reports, master's theses, and doctoral dissertations using PsycINFO, the U.S. National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts, and Google. We identified 53 studies (72 samples) conducted in U.S. correctional settings examining the predictive validity of 19 risk assessment instruments. The instruments varied widely in the number, type, and content of their items. For most instruments, predictive validity had been examined in 1 or 2 studies conducted in the United States that were published during the reference period. Only 2 studies reported on interrater reliability. No instrument emerged as producing the "most" reliable and valid risk assessments. Findings suggest the need for continued evaluation of the performance of instruments used to predict recidivism risk in U.S. correctional agencies.