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Structured Decision-Making

Public Safety Risk Assessment Clearinghouse

For risk and needs assessments to have an impact on justice processes and outcomes, assessment information must be used to improve decisions and practice. “Structured decision-making” is a method for doing this consistently and effectively to reduce risk. This method requires articulating what should be different for people at different risk levels or with different needs, and developing tools like matrices or other decision aids and accompanying processes to guide individual decisions in that direction. For example, how intensively should probation officers supervise someone given their level of risk to reoffend? Or, which goals should be prioritized in a reentry case plan based on the criminogenic needs identified in the assessment?

Setting up a structure for using assessments in decision-making should be an area of focus in any assessment implementation effort. To illustrate how this can be done, this guide sets out principles for structured decision-making in five distinct justice settings.

The guiding principles are tailored for each setting and will help you:

  1. match risk to intervention;
  2. identify gaps in services;
  3. measure performance;
  4. incorporate other relevant evidence-based and practical considerations.