The validity of risk assessment instruments for transition-age youth [2018]

Objective: There is increasing recognition in the justice system that transition-age youth (TAY) are in a unique developmental period that may require tailored policies and practices. This study investigated the differential predictive validity and potential for disparate impact of both juvenile (the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk for Youth and Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory) and adult risk assessment instruments (the Historical-Clinical-Risk Management–20 [HCR-20] and the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide [VRAG]) with this age group (ages 16–24), relative to adolescents (ages 12–15) or older adults (ages 25–40).

Method: The authors obtained secondary data sets for the 4 instruments totaling 3,353 cases. The final samples for each instrument after exclusions ranged from 1,181 cases for the VRAG to 290 cases for the HCR-20.

Results: Age group generally did not moderate the prediction of any recidivism or of violent recidivism. The only exception was on the HCR-20, which significantly predicted recidivism regardless of age but operated better for TAY than adults. The VRAG was the only instrument with significant mean age–related differences in risk scores.

Conclusions: The potential for an unfair impact of risk assessments on TAY is minimal regardless of whether they are processed in the juvenile or adult justice systems. This preliminary evidence suggests well-validated instruments used in either system should accurately quantify the likelihood of recidivism for TAY; however, this does not necessarily translate into effective risk management for this developmental period. More research using study designs developed specifically for examining age-related differences is needed.

Vincent, G. M., Drawbridge, D., & Davis, M.
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2018