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Section 3: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Components of Supervision: Specialized Approaches to Managing Sex Offenders

3 hours

TOPIC: CLASSIFICATION
(10 minutes)

New Topic IconCLASSIFICATION: RISK AND RESOURCES

Probation/parole agencies have been using classification and classification tools for many years to differentiate subpopulations that will receive differential levels or types of supervision. In general, these classification tools purport to distinguish groups with different levels of risk and need. They are important vehicles to target resources more effectively. Optimally, classification for risk should be based upon empirically based tools that have been validated on a jurisdiction's own population in order to assure that they are valid in distinguishing varying levels of risk.

Such tools are currently the only valid method to predict the likelihood of future failure and are demonstrably more accurate than intuition or clinical judgment alone. We discussed the use of these tools in the preceding section on the PSI. They are helpful when estimating the level of risk presented to the community by a particular offender and helping the court to make a determination between incarceration and community supervision.

Once an offender is under supervision, there is a continuing need to assess risk for purposes of classification. Many agencies do not have access to validated instruments to assess risk for classification purposes. In the absence of such research-based tools, agencies sometimes use their collective common sense in developing tools to identify factors that, through experience, appear to be related to risk. Assigned weights and scores, these tools look exactly like validated risk instruments—the difference is that research and analysis has not (or not yet) demonstrated their validity (that they do what they are intended to do). They do help agencies allocate scarce resources more effectively and to review apparently risk-related factors more consistently. With sex offenders the challenge and need for classification is much the same—but the stakes are higher. Some agencies simply identify all sex offenders as high risk, applying the maximum resources available. As caseloads grow, the urgency to supervise higher risk offenders more intensively mounts. In order to make some objective determination about which offenders require more intensive supervision and more resources, some agencies have taken steps to create classification schemes based upon the experience and judgment of their staff, and, subsequently, work toward validation.

New Topic IconEXAMPLE OF A CLASSIFICATION TOOL

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: For reference, there is a copy of the Oregon Sex Offender Assessment Tool in the participant materials for Section 3 of this version of the curriculum.

One example is the sex offender assessment tool used by the Jackson County, Oregon, Department of Probation. It has a scale that uses 34 items (24 in a negative scale and 10 in a positive scale) along with three factors that generate automatic overrides. When scored, the instrument places a sex offender in a low-, medium-, or high-risk category. The instrument is appealing because its factors have face validity (they seem to make sense), they include factors that can change over time (so one can see either progress or deterioration and take appropriate action), and they are numerous enough to seem to mirror the complexities of human behavior. (One limitation of some of the more reliable empirical scales is that they have so few factors that they lack "face validity.")

Preliminary research on the tool conducted by the Oregon Department of Corrections Research Unit has shown some predictive ability regarding conviction for a new offense or revocation to prison, but no relationship to conviction for a new sex offense.22 The short followup period (2 years) for the research may not have allowed enough time for failure related to sexual re-offending to occur, and more research is planned.

However, the agency finds the tool useful for managing resources and alerting officers to factors they should track during supervision. Other agencies have also taken this path. Although these classification instruments and strategies are helpful as management tools, they do not take the place of, nor should they be confused with, validated risk assessment tools with demonstrated ability to differentiate groups of offenders with varying levels of risk.

Agencies that currently have no classification instrument or process specifically for sex offenders should address this shortcoming as expeditiously as possible at the agency management level. Likewise, if the classification tool being used by an agency has not been validated for the population being served, it would be important to begin to identify research resources, such as local universities, to conduct the research necessary to validate such a tool. In the meantime, line officers will want to rely on the information presented in this section of the curriculum to help identify static and dynamic risk factors, amenability to treatment, and victim impact and safety as a guide in targeting sex offenders for specific levels and conditions of supervision.