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Assessment in juvenile services

Hennepin County's Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation is committed to using assessment tools to make objective juvenile justice decisions. The department evaluates individuals to provide personalized services in the community as our primary intervention. This is key to supporting the health and well-being of youth in the juvenile justice system and promoting the public safety of Hennepin County. Hennepin County is working on the creation of a new assessment tool to help inform equitable practices and policies. Visit the YLS section below for more information.

Striving for continuous improvement

At the foundation of evidence-based practice, which guides our work in corrections, is assessing actuarial risk. Assessment results drive resource allocation decisions by helping to identify people who are more or less likely to re-enter the system via new adjudications or convictions. Objective assessments help ensure consistency in decisions across the Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (DOCCR) many staff striving to serve youth, families, victims and Hennepin residents.

Hennepin County has participated in juvenile justice reform with assistance from the Annie E. Casey Foundation for over a decade. Despite reform that significantly decreased juvenile system participation without increasing recidivism, disproportionality in the system has increased. DOCCR seeks to develop a local assessment tool that considers racial disparities while improving accuracy in the area of risk prediction, particularly for those most disproportionately represented the Hennepin County juvenile justice system.

Description of project

  • To develop an actuarial assessment tool that considers the unique demographics within our large urban community. This project includes meeting with youth, families, impacted communities and professional stakeholders to garner feedback about DOCCR assessment practices.
  • Create an assessment practice that focuses more on strength and resiliency of kids in the justice system
  • A tool that better balances risk factors and that focus on kids’ well-being

The new assessment tool will continue to help make decisions in Hennepin County’s juvenile justice system, particularly around resource allocation. The tool will consider and balance goals of accuracy, distribution, equity, equality and utility. DOCCR has partnered with Big Picture Research and Consulting (BPRAC) to complete this project. You are invited to participate in a discussion to help inform the tool.

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For more than 20 years, corrections agencies across Minnesota have relied on the review of research to inform our practices. There is a body of evidence known as the principles of effective intervention that points to what works best to reduce repeat offending. At the foundation of those principles is objectively assessing risk.

Several tools are available to assess risk. Ideal tools look at factors that are linked to re-offending but cannot change, such as criminal history, as well as factors that can change, such as educational attainment and strengths.

No tool should be used without studying its effectiveness for the assessed population. Failure to do so could diminish the tool’s accuracy and result in disparate decisions. Hennepin County is committed to empirically evaluating our tools and making changes as a result of those evaluations.

The Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) is an objective tool used to determine if youth arrested on a new charge, that meets the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) detention criteria, should be held or released prior to his or her detention hearing.

On arrival at the JDC, staff members administer the RAI which measures a number of risk factors that could impact a youth’s likelihood to re-offend or fail to appear for court if he or she were released.

Risk factors assessed in the RAI include:

  • Prior and pending adjudications
  • Prior appearance failures
  • School or work attendance
  • Residence outside of the seven-county metro area

Depending on the final score, youth are released to a parent/guardian, referred to an alternative to detention or detained in the JDC. Requests for decision overrides are handled by JDC supervisors.

A RAI is also used in courtroom detention hearings to help determine whether detention prior to additional court proceedings is necessary. The Fourth Judicial District research department evaluates the RAI for accuracy.

Assessment tools help ensure consistency in services to youth, families, victims and Hennepin residents. While tools do provide objective information to guide probation treatment, Hennepin County Juvenile Services does not rely on this as the sole resource in making decisions.

This is because tools provide the probability of future behavior, not prediction certainty. Thus, multiple sources of information are explored and presented to the Court as part of decision-making processes.

As part of our reform work, we have used assessment results to divert juveniles assessed as low-risk from the juvenile justice system. Research indicates that the more treatment provided to low-risk youth as part of the corrections system, the greater the likelihood that the treatment will fail. Using tools for this purpose has contributed to a decrease in the probation population by 74 percent during the last decade without increasing recidivism.

One of the assessment tools we use is the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory. This copyrighted tool explores a youth’s risks, needs and strengths through an interview process that allows probation officers to understand the youth they are working with better. The process and assessment results make possible the tailoring of community services to address a youth’s unique needs.

We recently studied the effectiveness of this tool to see if adjustments to our assessment practices were needed, and we determined that changes are necessary. Results of the study are detailed in the following PDF documents.

Validation Study of the Youth Level of Service Assessment in Hennepin County (PDF)

Youth Level of Service Case Management Inventory – Risk Category Cut Point Analysis (PDF)

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