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Transition from Prison

Public Safety Risk Assessment Clearinghouse

Transition from Prison

Assessment plays a fundamental role in reducing the risk to reoffend for the vast majority of people in prison who will return to the community. Here are four questions you should ask yourself as you plan or seek to improve a structured decision-making tool or process based on risk assessment.


Does the framework support reserving more intensive programming and reentry preparation for higher-risk individuals?

Effective work to reduce risk must be guided by the risk principle and the needs principle. Specifically, there must be:

  • Separate intervention pathways for higher-risk and lower-risk people.
  • The intervention pathways for people with moderate to high risk to reoffend should involve intensive services addressing criminogenic needs. Programs for lower-risk people can focus primarily on stabilization needs.

Figure 6 shows a framework for doing this in the prison context, developed by the Transition from Prison to Community (TPC) Initiative.

Transition from Prison to Community Prison Transition Pathways
Figure 6. Transition from Prison to Community Prison Transition Pathways

How do you translate needs assessment information into program assignment?

Reducing risk for people in prison requires the appropriate matching of treatment to level of criminogenic need. Case plans or transition plans are a common means of structuring this. Such plans need to:

  • Clearly indicate the criminogenic needs identified as most problematic through assessment.
  • Guide the case manager or correctional counselor, and the individual whose case plan it is, to make program referrals and set goals to address these priority criminogenic need factors.

Appropriate program assignment requires understanding both the criminogenic needs of the person being supervised and which available programs are designed to address which criminogenic needs. Some assessment tools, such as the LS/CMI, include case planning functionality to support developing case plans that fully address criminogenic needs. However, matching interventions to indicated criminogenic need requires inventorying intervention options by need(s) addressed and making that information available to supervision officers and case managers or correctional counselors.

In addition to matching people with the right programs to mitigate their criminogenic needs and thereby reduce their risk to re-offend, there is the question of dosage and timing. How much programming is enough to reduce the risk to reoffend? While the research base on program dosage and recidivism is not yet sufficiently developed to definitively answer this question by risk level, concepts such as “dosage probation,” while developed for a community rather than an institutional setting, are a helpful guide on how to approach this issue.



Have you examined available program interventions to determine the criminogenic needs they address, as defined in the risk/needs assessment tool?

Case plans support structured decision-making at the individual level by focusing work for people in prison on addressing their criminogenic needs. In addition to that, a recommended practice is to sort or inventory intervention options by need(s) addressed, as defined in the risk/needs assessment tool. This information should be available to correctional case managers or other staff responsible for encouraging program participation and reentry preparation. Doing this could involve a thorough examination of existing programs to:

  • Determine the evidence base on how effectively they address criminogenic needs.
  • Assess whether they are implemented with fidelity. Appropriate program models delivered without fidelity do not produce the intended results.
  • Gauge the number of available program slots relative to the supervisees that need intervention.

Have you established performance measures tied to the structured decision-making framework?

This type of structured decision-making can guide the monitoring of several important aspects of system performance. Note that establishing, measuring and monitoring performance in these areas will require coordination between institutional corrections, paroling authorities, and community supervision.

  • Are individuals assigned to programs appropriate to their risk level that also address their criminogenic needs? Monitoring in this area checks whether practice accords with the risk and needs principles. It’s important to ensure that high and moderate-risk supervisees are in risk-reduction programming, rather than low-risk people. And for those who are in such programs, it’s critical that the programming match their established needs.
  • What are the success/failure rates for each risk level? Tracking reentry outcomes by risk-based category allows a jurisdiction to monitor whether the levels of supervision and programming being used are producing acceptable success rates. It is valuable to monitor program success rates by the risk level of individuals participating, as programs taking on higher-risk participants are trying to improve upon a high baseline for recidivism.