received widespread distribution (Howell, 2003a). Researchers continue to refine assessment instruments by exploring innovative algorithms for identifying subgroups of offenders with differing levels of risk for reoffending (Grann and Langstrom, 2007; Yang, Liu, and Coid, 2010; Walters, 2011), and focusing on predicting reoffending in special populations of juvenile offenders (e.g., juvenile sex offenders) (Prentky and Righthand, 2003). Several initiatives (e.g., MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change) have promoted the use of structured instruments as a method to increase juvenile justice efficiency and effectiveness by limiting institutional placement to adolescents who are most likely to reoffend and investing intervention resources in those adolescents for whom they will make the most difference.
Newer juvenile assessment instruments consider not only risk of reoffending, but also attempt to identify the needs of the adolescent that might be addressed with interventions. The intent of these instruments is to go beyond calculating a single score of how likely a juvenile might be to reoffend, and acknowledge that risk of reoffending is not a fixed attribute of the adolescent, but rather a partially contextually dependent estimate that might be lowered by particular interventions, monitoring in the community, or changes in life situation. Newer structured risk/needs instruments include an assessment of potential protective factors or treatment needs that might be considered when planning interventions (Andrews and Bonta, 1995; Wiebush et al., 1995; Dembo et al., 1996; Hoge, Andrews, and Leschied, 1996), as well as an assessment of the adolescent’s likely responsivity to interventions for these identified needs (Kennedy, 2000).
In line with the review of the risk marker literature cited above, most risk/needs instruments include an array of factors to consider, covering such considerations as prior offending history, family history of criminality, school performance, current peer associations, and antisocial attitudes. Based on the level of overall risk, an adolescent could be considered for more or less intensive services (e.g., institutional placement or community supervision). If appropriate dynamic risk factors for offending could be identified and assessed adequately, interventions for a particular adolescent could then be based on the number and type of dynamic factors related to continued offending. For example, an adolescent with high antisocial attitudes and levels of offending could be considered a good candidate for cognitive interventions aimed at altering these attitudes or promoting positive social skills, or an adolescent with a drug and alcohol problem might be considered a candidate for positive community adjustment if these issues can be addressed effectively. These methods, if built into an ongoing system of readministration and monitoring of services, hold considerable promise for assessing whether an adolescent offender has received appropriate services and whether intermediate goals of the interventions have been met.