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CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE

PUTTING THE WHAT WORKS


RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE
An Organizational Perspective

JENNIFER L. FERGUSON
Maricopa County Adult Probation Department

Significant advances have been made in correctional research over the past decade. The research
has highlighted the key elements of effective correctional assessment and treatment. However,
organizations that wish to engage in effective correctional services by implementing the findings
of correctional research have been given minimal practical guidance. This article discusses the
experience of one probation department and its implementation of a risk and needs assessment
tool as part of the daily practice of the organization. The implementation steps are identified as
well as the challenges faced and the lessons learned.

O ver the past decade, significant advances have been made in cor-
rectional research. This research has resulted in an increased
sense of optimism that correctional assessment and treatment can be
effective. What works has emerged as a popular theme to describe
effective correctional services. Some attempt has been made to
describe how organizations can take this research and implement it
into daily practice (Bonta, 1997). However, the focus has been on
what should be done and the steps that need to be taken without giving

AUTHORS NOTE: This article was written while the author was employed as a
research analyst with the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department. The article
would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the Maricopa
County Adult Probation Department staff members and our forensic consultant,
David Simourd, who were responsible for developing and implementing the Offender
Screening Tool. Thanks are extended to those who provided feedback on earlier drafts
of the article. Address correspondence to Jennifer Ferguson, 111 S. 3rd Ave., 3rd
Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85003.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 29 No. 4, August 2002 472-492
2002 American Association for Correctional Psychology

472
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 473

attention to how to implement these steps or the challenges that might


be experienced while doing so. The lack of attention to the practical
implementation of what works is problematic for organizations that
wish to engage in effective correctional services. This article aims to
address this issue by describing how one probation department imple-
mented research-based practice as part of the daily routine of the
organization.

WHAT WORKS

In the 1970s, the phrase nothing works took hold with the publi-
cation of Martinsons (1974) article titled What Works? Questions
and Answers About Prison Reform. This phrase was used to describe
the apparent lack of effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation and
helped steer correctional practice in a more punitive direction, with an
increased reliance on sanctions as a means of crime control. Since that
time, the research has been reviewed again and new research has been
conducted, resulting in a recognition that criminal sanctions alone
have a minimal effect on recidivism (Andrews et al., 1990). This
research has also found that treatment can be effective and can reduce
recidivism. The key ideas of correctional research have changed and the
focus is now on what works.
What has emerged as key principles of effective correctional inter-
vention are the principles of risk, need, and responsivity (Andrews &
Bonta, 1994; Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990). These principles help
define the appropriate targets for treatment and how treatment should
be delivered. They also help link assessment to treatment and high-
light the importance of assessment to the delivery of effective treat-
ment programs (Gendreau, 1996).
The risk principle states that treatment services should be matched
to the risk level of the offender (Andrews & Bonta, 1994; Andrews,
Bonta, & Hoge, 1990). Individuals who are high risk should receive
the most intensive services, whereas those who are low risk should
receive minimal intervention and services. This principle is supported
by research that has found that low-risk individuals who have received
intensive services have had no change or increases in their level of
recidivism, whereas high-risk individuals who receive intensive ser-
474 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

vices show reductions in levels of recidivism (Andrews, Bonta, &


Hoge, 1990).
The need principle focuses on the factors that should be targeted
through intervention and states that appropriate targets for correc-
tional intervention are criminogenic needs. Criminogenic needs are
dynamic risk factors that can be changed through treatment and where
change is known to reduce recidivism (Andrews & Bonta, 1994).
The responsivity principle suggests that characteristics of the
offender, such as personality and learning style, influence how he or
she responds to different types of treatment. As a result, for treatment
to be more effective, the style and mode of services should be matched
to the individual. For example, clients who are anxious may do better
in a supportive, nonconfrontational treatment environment.
Assessment is a key component to effectively implementing the
risk, need, and responsivity principles. Because advances have been
made in learning what is needed for effective correctional interven-
tion, advances have also been made in the type of assessment that
should be conducted to help with the delivery of effective treatment
programs. Bonta (1996) has identified different generations of assess-
ment to highlight the advances that have been made. The first genera-
tion of correctional assessments conducted was primarily based on the
professional judgment, intuition, and gut-level feelings of the individ-
ual conducting the assessment. The information collected and the way
that information was interpreted could vary from person to person.
The second generation of assessment moved toward a more stan-
dardized assessment. Specific criteria were identified to be included in
each assessment conducted. However, the focus was primarily on
static risk factors, which are factors that contribute to an individuals
risk to reoffend but cannot be changed. For example, an individuals
age at first juvenile adjudication is a factor that is often measured
through risk assessment tools. However, no intervention can be con-
ducted that will change the age the first juvenile adjudication
occurred. During this generation of assessment, the information pro-
vided by the risk assessment was used primarily to determine appro-
priate levels of supervision.
The second generation of assessment also gave some attention to
assessing an individuals needs to identify potential targets for treat-
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 475

ment. These assessments were conducted independently of the risk


assessment, and risk and needs were viewed as separate concepts.
Building on the second generation of assessment, a third generation
of risk and needs assessment has been identified. In the third genera-
tion of assessment, risk and needs are viewed as related concepts that
should be included in a single assessment tool. Needs are recognized
as dynamic risk factors that contribute to an individuals overall risk to
reoffend. When both static and dynamic risk factors are included
within a single assessment tool, the assessment is strengthened and
can help direct offenders to the type of services they should receive
and also to the appropriate level of services.
Recent research also has identified key predictors of recidivism.
Both static (historical) and dynamic (changeable) factors have been
found to be significant predictors of recidivism, although some fac-
tors are stronger predictors than others. The strongest predictors have
been identified as adult criminal history, antisocial personality, crimi-
nal attitudes, and companions (Andrews & Bonta, 1994; Gendreau,
Little, & Goggin, 1996). The research has also found that composite
risk scores, which combine information from several predictor domains
(as is usually done in a combined risk and needs assessment), are the
strongest predictors of recidivism (Gendreau et al., 1996).
Along with the advances in assessment, the correctional research
highlights characteristics of effective treatment programs. This research
has found that when certain characteristics are present, reductions in
recidivism can range from 25% to 60% (Gendreau, 1996). Effective
treatment programs are those that adhere to the principles of risk,
need, and responsivity; provide cognitive behavioral programming;
enforce program rules in a firm but fair manner; provide more positive
reinforcers than punishers; use therapists that respond in sensitive and
constructive ways; and use therapists who have appropriate training
and supervision.
The shift in research findings away from nothing works to a focus
on what works means that correctional practice also must shift from
a get-tough law-and-order focus, relying strictly on sanctions, to a
more balanced approach that includes both sanctions and treatment.
There is some evidence that organizations that are in the business of
correctional practice are willing to make this shift. For example, in its
position paper on probation, the American Probation and Parole Asso-
476 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

ciation (APPA, 1987) stated that probation . . . views itself as an


instrument for both control and treatment appropriate to some, but not
all, offenders (p. 1). However, although the knowledge base of what
contributes to effective correctional services has grown and organiza-
tions appear committed to implementing what works, there has been
little practical guidance on how organizations can take this research
and implement it in daily practice. The title of Bontas (1997) recent
article, Offender Rehabilitation: From Research to Practice, sug-
gests that this type of guidance exists. In that article, Bonta identified
three steps that should be followed to put research findings on assess-
ment and treatment into practice. First, there needs to be an organiza-
tional commitment to the value of rehabilitation. This commitment
must include the dedication of time and resources. Second, valid
instruments need to be used to accurately assess offender risk and
needs. The final step is to use cognitive-behavioral approaches to
improve the effectiveness of treatment. Although these are necessary
steps, little guidance is provided about how to achieve them. There is
no discussion of the practical challenges that might be experienced
while trying to implement any of the steps. These shortcomings pose
problems for organizations that wish to implement research findings
and engage in effective correctional services.

THE MARICOPA COUNTY ADULT


PROBATION DEPARTMENT (MCAPD)

The MCAPD is an organization that is trying to take the current


findings of correctional research and implement them in the daily
practice of the organization. The current strategies being used to
accomplish this include conducting a combined risk and needs assess-
ment and providing programs that attempt to adhere to the principles
of effective correctional intervention.
A primary responsibility of the MCAPD is to provide supervision
to individuals sentenced to probation through the Superior Court of
Arizona, in Maricopa County. At any given time, active supervision is
provided to approximately 23,000 individuals on standard probation
and 1,800 individuals on intensive probation supervision. The depart-
ment also provides presentence recommendations for all individuals
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 477

coming through the Superior Court of Arizona, in Maricopa County.


Approximately 15,000 presentence investigations are conducted each
year.
In addition to the supervision and presentence investigation ser-
vices provided by the department, efforts are made to provide a num-
ber of programs that meet the needs of the offenders. These programs
may be provided internally by the department, or other agencies may
be used to provide these services.
A key component that shapes how the MCAPD operates is the use
of a combined risk and needs assessment tool. The remainder of this
article focuses on how the department implemented this tool as part of
the everyday practice of the organization and includes a discussion of
how it was developed and implemented, the challenges faced, and the
lessons learned.

IMPLEMENTING A RISK AND


NEEDS ASSESSMENT TOOL

ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT
TO RESEARCH-BASED PRACTICE

As a first step toward implementing a risk and needs assessment


tool and similar to the first step that Bonta (1997) identified for putting
research into practice, the MCAPD made a commitment to imple-
menting research-based practice and to using the findings of research
to guide the strategies used by the organization. The importance of
organizational commitment has been cited as important to obtaining
quality work (Crosby, 1984; General Accounting Office, 1993; Hunt,
1993). If something is important to management, it will be viewed as
important to staff.
The MCAPD made the commitment to conducting research-based
practice by incorporating it in the strategic plan of the department,
which outlines the priorities of the organization. The commitment to
research-based practice first appeared in the strategic plan developed
in 1996. This commitment could be seen in statements such as All
department programs will be based on empirically validated research
478 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

and The department will use (a risk/needs assessment tool) and indi-
vidual screening tools to assess client needs.
The organizational commitment to research and to implementing
research-based practice was maintained and strengthened when the
strategic plan was revisited at the end of 1999. One of the strategies
identified for accomplishing the mission of the department was
working in partnership with the community to provide research-
based prevention and intervention services. Although providing pre-
vention and intervention services was part of the 1996 strategic plan,
the words research-based were added, demonstrating the commit-
ment to putting research into practice.
New goals were also developed that highlighted the commitment to
research. One goal was to utilize proven and effective methodology
to assess and change behavior of offenders through effective case
management. A goal specific to research was also added that stated
that the department wanted to increase our use of internal research-
based information to make quality decisions.

SELECTING AN ASSESSMENT TOOL

The commitment to implementing research-based practice also


included conducting the type of assessment that was supported by the
research literature. The MCAPD wanted to conduct meaningful assess-
ments of the individuals coming through the department that would
allow assessment information to guide decisions about its level of
supervision an individual should receive and also to guide program
planning. However, in 1996, when the department reviewed the cur-
rent assessment practices, it recognized that there were some prob-
lems with the assessments that were being conducted.
First, different instruments were being used to assess risk and to
assess needs. The risk assessment and the needs assessment were
modeled after the Wisconsin risk and needs assessment tools (Baird,
1981). Although the instruments were standardized and allowed the
same information to be gathered on each individual, risk and needs
were treated as separate entities. An individuals risk level was not
being used to inform decisions about the level of treatment services
that should be received.
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 479

Second, the risk assessment conducted focused primarily on static


factors. Whereas conducting both the risk and the needs assessment
allowed static and dynamic factors to be assessed, the dynamic risk
factors were not considered when determining the individuals overall
risk level, and they did not inform the level of services needed.
Finally, concerns existed about the quality with which the assess-
ments were being conducted. The risk and needs assessments were
often conducted as an afterthought and completed quickly at the last
minute. They were viewed as something that had to be done, and the
information contained in the assessment was not necessarily viewed
as useful to staff. Staff generally did not use the assessment informa-
tion that was available to make decisions.
As a result of the review of existing assessment practices, the
MCAPD recognized a need to change the assessment tool that was
being used. In particular, an assessment tool was desired that would
provide a broad, overall assessment of the risk and needs of the
offender. The assessment tool should contain both static and dynamic
risk factors that focus on the key predictors of criminal behavior. Also,
the assessment tool should allow the information to be used to deter-
mine the overall risk the individual posed to reoffend, the appropriate
targets for services or intervention, and the appropriate level of ser-
vices. The department also wanted to select an assessment tool and
develop an assessment process that would make risk-needs assess-
ment more meaningful and valuable to staff.
The MCAPD considered two options when selecting an assess-
ment tool that would meet its needs. One was to use an existing vali-
dated risk and needs assessment tool, and the other was to create a new
tool that incorporated the existing research. The advantages and disad-
vantages of each approach were considered before making a decision.
Assessment tools do exist that would meet the needs of the MCAPD.
One of the most commonly used assessment tool is the Level of Ser-
vice InventoryRevised (LSI-R) (Andrews & Bonta, 1995). There are
a number of advantages to using an existing assessment tool. An exist-
ing tool is likely to have many resources already in place, such as the
forms, training curriculum, a pool of trainers, and software. It is also
likely that an existing tool has already been validated, increasing the
amount of confidence that people have in the instrument. For example,
480 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

a significant body of research literature exists that discusses the reli-


ability and validity of the LSI-R (Andrews, Kiessling, Mickus, & Rob-
inson, 1986; Loza & Simourd, 1994) and that discusses its use with
different offender populations (Bonta & Motiuk, 1987; D. J. Simourd
& Malcolm, 1998). One of the disadvantages is the cost of purchasing
the tool, which may be an ongoing expense.
Developing a new assessment tool also has advantages and disad-
vantages. When developing a new tool, staff can be involved in the
process, which may help increase staff willingness to use the informa-
tion provided by the assessment. There may also be fewer ongoing
costs. However, developing a new tool has the disadvantage of not
being validated, and more work is required to develop the instrument,
the training curriculum, and to train trainers.

THE OFFENDER SCREENING TOOL (OST)

The MCAPD made the decision to develop its own tool, called the
OST. One reason for the decision was the cost required to use an exist-
ing tool given the large number of assessments the department con-
ducts each year, along with the departments desire to engage in reas-
sessment. Another key factor was a concern about resistance of staff to
a change in the way assessment was being conducted. Because there
was a desire to conduct assessment that was meaningful to staff, the
decision was made to involve staff in the development of the OST.
At the same time that a decision was made to develop the OST, the
decision was also made to reengineer the presentence division. The
reengineering decision was made because the presentence process
had become complex and labor intensive. There were also a number of
areas where work was being duplicated. The redesigned process
would eliminate the duplication of effort and also introduce the OST
as the risk and needs assessment tool of the department.
The current version of the OST was developed and implemented in
1998. The OST is administered at the presentence level, and informa-
tion used to score the OST is gathered as part of a larger presentence
interview. The presentence interview is automated, so interviewers
enter the information directly into the computer. At the end of the
interview, the OST is automatically scored.
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 481

The content of the OST incorporates the existing research on assess-


ment. The OST gathers information in 10 categories that are sup-
ported by the research as predictors of an offenders criminal behavior.
The 10 categories are (a) physical health/medical, (b) vocational/
financial, (c) education, (d) family and social relationships, (e) resi-
dence and neighborhood, (f) alcohol, (g) drug abuse, (h) mental health,
(i) attitude, and (j) criminal behavior. The items on the OST include
both static and dynamic criminogenic risk factors.
The OST also focuses on those factors that are the strongest predic-
tors of recidivism. Although all the factors included in the OST are
predictors of recidivism, those categories that are stronger predictors
are weighted more and contribute more to the offenders composite
risk score. For example, where an individual lives and who an individ-
ual lives with can influence criminal behavior. This is measured
through the residence and neighborhood category of the OST. How-
ever, residence and neighborhood is not as strong a predictor as atti-
tudes that may be supportive of criminal behavior. As a result, the resi-
dence and neighborhood section of the OST contains two items,
whereas the attitude section contains seven items and makes a greater
contribution to the overall risk score.
Once scored, the OST provides information about an offenders
risk and needs. All the items on the OST are used to create a composite
risk score. Cutoff scores have been statistically determined based on
Maricopa Countys offender population to identify risk levels of low,
medium, and high. Need scores also exist for each category. A rational
cutoff has been created to highlight those areas where an individual
may need treatment or intervention. The risk score, in combination
with the information provided in each category, can also help identify
the level of services needed. Preliminary validation research (Grobe,
Simourd, Lessard, & Ferguson, 2000) has been conducted on the OST,
which suggests the tool has considerable promise as an appropriate
risk and needs assessment instrument.
The risk and need information generated by the OST is used by staff
throughout the MCAPD. The OST is implemented as part of the
presentence investigation and can be used, along with other informa-
tion, to inform the recommendations of presentence officers. It is also
intended for probation officers in the field to inform their case man-
agement and supervision plans.
482 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

TRAINING ON THE OST

Once the OST was developed, a key to successful implementation


was to provide staff with enough information and training to allow
them to incorporate the assessment and its results into their daily
work. Multiple trainings were developed. The presentence division
was trained on both the administration of the OST and how to interpret
the results. The rest of the department, from support staff to probation
officers to upper management, was trained on how to interpret the OST
and how to use it to develop case management and supervision plans.
What was important in developing each training was to tailor the train-
ing as much as possible to the needs of the group being trained.
The most significant training component was the training provided
to the entire department on how to interpret the OST and use it for case
plans. To help this training go more smoothly, the MCAPD developed
a written training curriculum to ensure the essential information was
consistently provided to staff. The key information the department
hoped to convey through the training included (a) a discussion of the
history of assessment and the advances that have been made; (b) spe-
cific information about the OST, including how it was developed and
the categories that were assessed; (c) a discussion of OST scores and
the information they provide; and (d) a discussion of how to interpret
the OST and use the information to guide decisions. Sample cases
were included, so training participants could practice interpreting the
scores.
At the end of the training, a training assessment was conducted.
The assessment was designed to gather information in two areas. One
was to test participantsknowledge of the information provided during
the training. In general, it was important to know if the participants
understood the concepts that were presented. Some of the issues tested
through the MCAPDs assessment included the following questions:
(a) Is the difference between static and dynamic risk factors under-
stood? (b) Is the importance of assessing multiple risk factors under-
stood? (c) Do participants understand how to interpret the composite
risk score? (d) Do participants understand how to identify areas in
need of treatment or intervention? (e) Do participants understand how
risk level influences the level of services an individual should receive?
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 483

The second type of information that was gathered was participants


perceptions of the OST. For example, do participants believe they
could explain the purpose of the OST to others? Questions were also
asked about whether probation staff believe the OST will help them in
their jobs. Finally, the training assessment asked staff to identify any
concerns they had about the OST or about using the information the
OST provides to guide decisions.
The training assessment conducted by the MCAPD provided admin-
istrative staff with confidence that the trainers did a good job of con-
veying the essential information of the training. However, the assess-
ment also highlighted which concepts were most difficult for people
to understand. One of the most difficult concepts was the idea that
someone who poses a low risk to reoffend may not need to receive
intensive services, even if they do have a need that should be addressed.
Receiving this information helped the trainers identify some different
ways to present this information so it could be more easily understood.
The training assessment also highlighted the concerns that staff had
about using the OST to do their jobs. Some of the common concerns
were potentially receiving inaccurate information through client self-
report and the loss of professional judgment. Receiving this informa-
tion helped highlight some of the potential obstacles that may inter-
fere with staff using the information provided by the OST to guide
their decisions. With this information, the department could work to
identify strategies to help address these concerns.
Another component of the implementation of the OST and the
reengineered presentence process was the creation of the Quality
Assurance Council (QAC). The QAC was created to help demonstrate
the commitment to quality, which has been identified as a key to suc-
cess (Crosby, 1984; General Accounting Office, 1993; Hunt, 1993).
The purpose of the QAC was to help identify where errors could occur
in the presentence process and to identify ways to minimize or elimi-
nate those errors. The MCAPD wanted to be sure that quality informa-
tion was gathered through the presentence interview and used to make
informed decisions. It also wanted to be sure there was a mechanism in
place to address questions and concerns about the OST and about the
presentence process. The QAC addressed issues such as the need for
ongoing training, workload concerns, and the need for technical sup-
484 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

port. It was in the meetings of the QAC that many of the challenges
faced during the implementation of the OST were discussed.

CHALLENGES

The MCAPD has been successful in developing and implementing


the OST as the risk and needs assessment being conducted by the
department. As a result, the MCAPD has achieved its goal of incorpo-
rating research-based assessment in the daily practice of the organiza-
tion. However, the implementation of the OST did not occur without
significant challenges, some of which are still ongoing. Some of the
challenges experienced by the MCAPD, as well as the strategies used
to address them, are described in this section.

PERCEIVED LOSS OF DISCRETION

Research on assessment acknowledges that structured assess-


ments are better predictors of criminal behavior than clinical judg-
ment (Glaser, 1987; Meehl, 1954). As a result, assessments are better
when they are structured and objective, ensuring that all clients are
assessed using the same criteria. This shift to a more structured assess-
ment resulted in concerns of probation staff that they no longer had
any discretion when making presentence recommendations or when
developing case management plans. The following quotes describe
the essence of their concerns: It (the OST) will be too standardized so
that individual judgment will be lost. Another person expressed a
concern that the professional judgment aspect will slowly fade out.
This perceived loss of discretion poses a significant challenge when
implementing research-based assessment because it can contribute to
a resistance to change.
While implementing the OST, it was important for the MACPD to
acknowledge this concern of staff. As one staff member commented,
Officers need to be reassured the OST does not replace professional
judgment, it complements it. Trainers tried to respond to this con-
cern. They drew on the work of Andrews and Bonta (1994) when pre-
senting this message. Andrews and Bonta highlighted that in addition
to the principles of risk, need, and responsivity, professional judgment
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 485

plays a role in effective assessment. Trainers presented the message


that the information provided by the OST, along with their profes-
sional judgment, was a powerful tool. Trainers also acknowledged
that the information provided by the OST was not the only informa-
tion that needed to be considered when making a decision. For exam-
ple, when making a presentence recommendation, the officer also
needs to consider the seriousness of the offense and the concerns of the
victims so that there is a balance between the needs of the victim, the
offender, and the community. These messages helped staff feel they
were still a valued part of the assessment process and that their experi-
ence was still valued. It also helped to reassure them that the depart-
ment would still support them if they used their professional judgment.

OBTAINING QUALITY INFORMATION

Another area that posed a challenge was obtaining quality informa-


tion. Quality assessment information is essential if the assessment tool
is going to be used to inform decisions. Two challenges were experi-
enced related to quality information. One was a concern of probation
staff about the quality of the information contained in the OST. The
second challenge was making sure that probation staff gathered qual-
ity information.
Probation staff members were concerned that the information pro-
vided by the OST would not be meaningful because it was gathered
through self-report. They were concerned that the offender may not be
honest and that information provided by the offender may not be accu-
rate or give a true picture of the client. Trainers acknowledged that
sometimes offenders are not honest or provide misleading informa-
tion. They also emphasized that although information is initially gath-
ered from the offender through an interview, the offender should not
be the only source of information used to gather information for the
OST. Information should still be verified through official records.
Trainers stated that when there were inconsistencies between the
information provided by the client and the information obtained from
other sources, the information should be changed to reflect the official
records.
Staff also expressed a concern that the OST does not address all fac-
tors. As an example of this concern, one person commented that
486 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

human behavior is more complex than a questionnaire. Related to


this, staff was concerned that the OST would not provide enough
information for specialized caseloads, such as sex offenders. To
address this concern, several key messages were presented. One was
to emphasize that the OST was designed to be a general risk and needs
assessment tool that could be administered to a broad offender popula-
tion. The assessment tool would become too long and cumbersome if
all potential risk factors were included. However, the OST did con-
sider multiple risk factors and incorporated those that were considered
some of the strongest predictors of criminal behavior.
Another message was that there was value in having a general
assessment conducted on each offender. There are common risk fac-
tors across offender groups that contribute to the risk to reoffend (D. J.
Simourd & Malcolm, 1998; L. Simourd & Andrews, 1994). A general
assessment tool can help identify areas in need of treatment or inter-
vention that may not be recognized if the only assessment conducted
was related to the offending behavior. At the same time, there is value
to specialized assessment, and a general assessment can identify areas
where there might be a need for further assessment. For example,
when there is an elevated score in the drug category of the OST, a more
detailed substance abuse assessment is conducted. Additional assess-
ments are also conducted when there is an elevated score in the atti-
tude category of the OST.
Although staff members were concerned about the quality of the
information provided by the offender, the MCAPD also wanted to
ensure that quality data were collected and maintained by probation
staff. Having quality data was viewed as important not only for the
case-by-case decisions but also for research that would be done to val-
idate the OST. One issue was making sure staff members were con-
ducting quality interviews. A number of strategies were used to
address this. Prior to conducting any interviews, the presentence
screeners were provided training that included a component on inter-
viewing skills. The training addressed issues such as how to listen
effectively, how to treat the offender with respect, and how to ask
probing questions to obtain more detailed information. Once a num-
ber of interviews were conducted, focus groups were held with inter-
viewers to obtain feedback. The key questions for the focus groups
were whether there were any questions that the offenders had diffi-
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 487

culty understanding and whether there were any questions where the
interviewers were uncertain about the questions intent. Clarifying
item intent was important to ensure that everyone was interpreting and
answering the questions the same way. The feedback provided during
the focus group was used to develop a refresher training.
Another step taken to verify consistency across interviewers was to
have an independent observer attend a number of interviews and
record responses to the questions. The similarity between the inter-
viewers OST scores and the observers OST scores were then com-
pared. The close relationship that was found between the two scores
gave the department confidence that when properly trained, the OST
could be administered consistently.
Mechanisms were also built into the automated system to help
ensure quality. One feature was to make each question that contributed
to the OST score a required question. If the question was not asked and
answered, a drop-down menu box would appear on the computer
screen informing the interviewer that he or she had missed a question.
The interviewer was prevented from continuing until the question had
been answered. This was important because the OST was designed as
a structured assessment, and it helped ensure that each person was
assessed using the same questions.
It was also important to ensure that all staff members were using the
same version of the automated system because enhancements or cor-
rections were occasionally made. To do this, whenever a change had
been made, staff members were prompted to update their version of
the program. They could not access the system until it had been
updated.

MAINTAINING APPROPRIATE LEVELS


OF RESOURCES AND SUPPORT

The changes that were made to the presentence process, which


included the implementation of the OST, were significant. The pro-
cess was reengineered in part to help use existing resources more
effectively and efficiently. At the same time, it was important that the
amount of resources and support that were dedicated to the effort were
sufficient to ensure its successful implementation. The resources and
488 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

support included organizational commitment, staff, time, training,


equipment (e.g., computers, software, printers), and technical support.
The OST was initially implemented as a pilot project in the
presentence division. The intent of the pilot project was to help man-
age the change and to help identify the resources that would be needed.
Once the department was comfortable with the new presentence pro-
cess and the implementation of the OST on a small scale, it was imple-
mented departmentwide.
One of the biggest challenges was anticipating and maintaining
resource levels once the project was implemented. It was difficult to
anticipate the ongoing resource needs. The Quality Assurance Coun-
cil played a key role in identifying those needs because it provided a
forum to raise concerns and identify problems so resources could be
directed to the issue.

MANAGING WORKLOAD

It has been noted that the OST was implemented as one part of a
reengineered presentence process. One of the reasons for undertaking
the reengineering project was to minimize the duplication of effort
that previously existed. One description of the presentence process
called it a a complex process that is difficult to describe and labor
intensive. The example that was often used to highlight the duplica-
tion of effort that occurred was that an individual name had to be
entered into the system 20 different times. Although an exaggeration,
it highlighted the problem. As a result, there was a concern with man-
aging workload. This was also a concern of staff who were trained in
the OST. They expressed concerns about the amount of time it would
take to complete and that it would add more paperwork.
It was difficult to address concerns about workload. Trainers tried
to emphasize that this was a new and different way to look at risk and
needs rather than something additional that needed to be done. How-
ever, trainers also had to acknowledge that it might require more time.
What trainers tried to emphasize was how the OST could benefit staff
and help them do their job. Based on responses to a training assess-
ment item, it appears that trainers were effective in conveying this
message. Staff members were asked to state in their own words why
the department was using the OST. One of the top responses was to
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 489

help officers do their job. Other responses also identified ways the
OST could help, such as by identifying levels of treatment supervi-
sion, prioritizing treatment needs, and developing case management
plans. They also stated it could help supervise clients better and help
officers make better decisions.

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

By definition, reengineering involves making radical changes in


the way work is done. As a result, significant changes were taking
place that staff needed to adjust to. Comments made during the train-
ing acknowledge staff concern about the changes being made. One
comment was It will be a major shift in the way we do business and
that will be difficult for officers to adjust to the change. Staff also
raised a concern about continual change and suggested that by the
time they adjusted to this change, it would be changed again. One staff
person said, Ill get used to it and be told there is a new tool to use.
As with the other concerns raised by staff, it was important to
acknowledge this concern. It was more difficult to respond to it
because change can be necessary to remain a vital organization. What
was emphasized was the need for this change and how it would add
value to the work that staff members do.

LESSONS LEARNED

With all the challenges experienced, an important question to ask is


whether the investment of time and resources was worth the effort. To
answer that question, it is important to go back and review what the
MCAPD hoped to accomplish by reengineering the presentence pro-
cess and implementing the OST. The MCAPD hoped to develop a pro-
cess that would allow it to use resources wisely while responding to
growth in the number of cases coming through the presentence divi-
sion. The MCAPD also wanted to conduct a more systematic assess-
ment that would be meaningful to probation staff.
Some noticeable changes have occurred that suggest the invest-
ment made was worth the effort. The workload of the presentence
division has continued to grow, but the increase in workload has been
490 CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR

managed with the existing resource levels. Information is also being


gathered more systematically at the presentence level, and assessment
is a routine part of staffs job. The information gathered also appears to
be meaningful and is allowing more time to be devoted to the high-risk
and high-needs cases.
Because of the positive results, the MCAPD will continue its efforts
to implement research into practice. At the same time, the MCAPD
hopes to remember some key lessons learned from this experience.
First, it is important to have the commitment of the organization, espe-
cially the top levels of management, for implementation to be success-
ful. The support of management will help address other challenges
experienced along the way, such as the need for sufficient resources,
how to manage the changes that are taking place with the organization,
and providing a consistent message to staff about the need for the
change.
Second, once a commitment has been made, sufficient resources
need to be committed to the effort. Resource needs should be antici-
pated beyond the initial implementation and should include the resources
needed to sustain the project or program.
Third, it is important to invest in good-quality training. Devoting
resources to training, such as developing a written training curriculum
and developing a pool of quality trainers, will help sustain the project.
Fourth, as something new is implemented, be sure to acknowledge
the concerns of staff as they adjust to the change. This includes provid-
ing them with opportunities to voice their concerns and planning for
ways to respond to those concerns.
Finally, be prepared to face challenges and anticipate what those
challenges may be. It will not be easy to implement the findings of
research into practice and organizations need to be prepared for that.
The experience of the MCAPD in implementing risk and needs
assessment helps highlight the practical steps needed to implement
the findings of research in the daily practice of an organization. While
specifically applied to the implementation of risk and needs assess-
ment, they can also be applied to the implementation of other research
findings, such as appropriate treatment programs. MCAPDs experi-
ence helps fill a gap that has existed in the literature by addressing
how to implement research findings. The lessons learned can help
Ferguson / RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE 491

organizations committed to implementing effective correctional ser-


vice and research-based practice achieve that goal.

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