Research Policies, Procedures and Findings Related to Classification of Offenders

Classification of Offenders

            In many western countries including the United States, Canada, and the UK, the two most important activities that are done as offenders enter the correctional facilities are offender assessment and classification. The major goals of correctional assessment and classification is to identify the needs of the offender and match them with the correctional resources for appropriate treatment and management, to enhance community protection and safety, and to improve the correctional operations and performance through reduction of recidivism and costs.

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Although the two terms are related, classification refers to the procedures of placing the prisoners in one of the several prison levels, (for instance in the maximum, close, medium or minimum) in order to ensure the chosen levels match the prisoner needs with the available correctional resources (Travis & Edwards, 2014). The continued use of the offender classification in many western jurisdictions has seen development of many research, categories, procedures, and policies which are related with the subject. 

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Research Policies, Procedures and Findings Related with Classification of Offenders

The Low-Risk Policy

            One of the policies which is related with the classification of offenders is the low-risk policy, which was endorsed by the Criminal Law Committee in 2012. According to (Cohen, Cook & Lowenkamp, 2016) the policy states that low risk offenders are predicted by the Risk Prediction Index (RPI) and Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) actuarial tools to have relatively lower rates to reoffend.  The policy outlines that the offenders who have been classified as low risk by either the Risk Prediction Index (RPI) or the Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) actuarial tools are eligible under the low-risk policy. This means that once the offenders have been determined to be low-risk offenders under the PCRA and or RPI, the officers are mandated under the policy to limit their supervision activities on such offenders and instead focus on the monitoring of the compliance of offenders with release conditions, if applicable and responding to any changes that may be observed from the released offenders. However, the policy offers discretionary powers to the officers to place low-risk offenders under higher supervision level if they find under their personal judgment that such offender risks have been underestimated.

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The Offender Classification Procedures under the Adam Walsh Act

            The convicted sex offenders are required to provide their contacts annually through registration in order to provide the law enforcement officers with information regarding their locations for purposes of monitoring, enforcement of restrictions, and to uphold no-contact orders. The procedures for sexual offender registry are provided for in the Adam Walsh Act. According to (Zgoba et al., 2016) the present Adam Walsh Act is dated back to 1994, when Jacob Wetterling Act was passed by the Congress as a response the threat that was posed by convicted sexual offenders living within the community that required the development and implementation of a system of registration and tracking of convicted sex offenders. The registration policy was amended further in 1996, when Megan’s Law was passed and again in 2006 that led to the replacement of the Watterling Act with the Adam Walsh Act.

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            The Adam Walsh Act was passed with an intention to provide a Standardized Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORN). According to (Ticknor & Warner, 2018), the SORN offers guidelines that standardize the sex offender policies across the United States.  In addition to requiring registration, the act provides a classification system for convicted sex offenders, it outlines the minimum required information, defines how communities will be notified, and the number of times the offender must update the contacts.

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The offender classification under the procedures defined in the act is based on three tiers. According to (Ticknor & Warner, 2018) the tier I offenders are required to register for 15 years and includes the offenders whose offense was not punishable by prison sentences exceeding one year, for example offences that involved possession of child pornography and attempted sexual assault. Tier II and III offenders includes the sexual offenses that attracted over 1 year of in prison sentences. It excludes offenses that actual sexual contact occurred. The authors point that the severity of the sexual contact is the source of the distinction between the two tiers. The additional criteria include the age of the victim r the nature of injury inflicted. The data that is collected include the demographic information, travel and immigrations status, temporary lodging details, criminal history, employment status and verifications, vehicle information, and a sample of their DNA or fingerprints. 

The Offender Classification Research Findings

            The process of offender risk assessment can be a challenging task and may be subject of influence of other factors. Several researches have been done on the effectiveness of the risk assessment tools such as research done on accuracy of SORNA, and the research done on the impact of changes in offender risk as evaluated in PCRA. Ticknor & Warner (2018) did a research that evaluated the effectiveness of SORNA in predicting offender recidivism. In their study involving several sex offenders, the authors found that the use of SORNA led to over classification of some offenders, resulting in more supervision even though they had not committed another offense.  The research also found that the classification tool was subject to racial bias as the research found that African-Americans were twice more likely to be classified than the Caucasians. In the other research on the impact offender risk assessment instruments scores on the evaluators, McCallum, Boccaccini & Bryson (2017) found that though actuarial instruments mattered among evaluators when making conclusions about offenders, other factors were more influential. According to the authors, other factors such as prior offending, empathy, treatment, and motivation, greatly influenced the evaluator final containment recommendations.

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Analysis of the Policies, Procedures, and Research Findings

            The low-risk policy makes some reference to the RPI and PCRA, since the PCRA deployment within the federal was gradual thus it overlapped the earlier risk instrument that it replaced. The policy including the evaluation procedures stated earlier in SORNA are integral part of the post-conviction supervision. They ensure that the offenders are categorized according to the risks they pose (Cohen, Lowenkamp & VanBenschoten, 2016). Of particular importance is the fact that it ensures efficient use of fiscal resources. In addition, the research findings have found that the risk assessment tools are critical in offender evaluation, increasing the effectiveness of evaluation process. However, the evaluation tools are subject to the evaluator bias, which may lead to discrimination in the classification process.

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Strengths and Weaknesses to Determine the Best Practice in Offender Classification           

The low-risk policy and the risk assessment tools provide an effective framework for determine the offender level of risks. The major strengths of the risk assessment tools are that they provide an easier and yet effective way in which sex offenders can be assessed. McCallum, Boccaccini & Bryson (2017) notes that offender records can be hundreds or even thousands, which is easier to make assessment with the use of the assessment tools. The other strengths associated with SORNA and other assessment tools include simplicity and uniformity (Ticknor & Warner, 2018). However, the risk-assessment tools are associated with disadvantages such as a lack of consideration of the offender risk level as determined by known risk factors, background information, and criminogenic factors or to allow for overrides (pp 8). They can also be subject to evaluator bias and overclassification. Considering the strengths and weaknesses of the policy and classification evaluation tools, the best practice for the sex offender classification would be to combination the evaluation tools with a consideration of the offender external factors such previous criminal records, their age, sex and race, among other factors. Since most of the classification tools were developed using Caucasians, combining them with the offender external factors would reduce the bias.

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