so much usefulness forestalling future offending, despite notable positive effects. Without the ability to identify the most serious juvenile offenders cleanly, prevention efforts will necessarily enroll and treat a proportion of adolescents who would otherwise have had a trouble-free adolescence in the absence of the intervention and will overlook another proportion who will become serious, chronic, or violent adolescents at a later developmental stage. The challenge of assessing adolescent offenders regarding the most reasonable level and type of intervention once they have come to the attention of the juvenile justice system remains unsolved.


Many areas of health and social service practice have come to rely more on actuarial methods for screening and assessing individuals. These methods include checklists to identify particular problems for further assessment and structured protocols to determine the severity of a problem (e.g., screens for depression in primary care practices [Zuckerbrot et al., 2007], instruments for assessing intimate partner or sexual violence [Basile, Hertz, and Back, 2007; Rabin et al., 2009]). In some instances, structured instruments are used to assess the readiness of an individual to leave a restrictive environment or to identify potentially high-risk individuals if grave outcomes, such as imminent serious violence, might be avoided by admission into an institutional environment. Structured risk assessments have even made their way into court deliberations about the imposition of specialized laws, such as violent sexual predator statutes.

Use of Risk/Needs Assessment Instruments

Actuarial or structured professional judgment measures have also become more commonplace throughout the juvenile justice system. Detention screening instruments are now often used to determine an adolescent’s risk of failing to appear in court or of committing another criminal act if released into the community. In addition, screening instruments for mental disorders have become a standard instrument used at detention intake to identify adolescents with incipient mental health problems (Desai et al., 2006). Finally, beginning in the 1980s, instruments for assessing the risk of reoffending by adjudicated adolescent offenders have also permeated practice in many locales, as a way for communities to establish a consensus about the appropriate threshold for sending an adolescent to institutional placement (Baird, Storrs, and Connelly, 1984; Wiebush et al., 1995). Many locales have developed slightly modified versions of early structured approaches, and a limited number of these have been validated and

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