Miller, J. & Palmer, K. (2020). Juvenile probation officer decision-making in a reforming state: Assessing the application of evidence-based principles. Criminal Justice & Behavior.
Whereas research has shown improvements in decision-making shortly after the introduction of risk/need assessment (RNA) tools, studies of routine practice nonetheless show shortcomings in RNA utilization. The current study uses an experimental survey-based vignette method to assess juvenile probation officer decision-making several years into a sustained evidence-based effort to implement an RNA in Pennsylvania. Consistent with the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model, results show officer decisions correspond with clients’ risk and need. Moreover, adherence to the RNR model was found for clients across risk levels and offense categories. However, officers often relied on services for low-risk clients, and made decisions about interventions based on offense characteristics. Results suggest a discretionary form of decision-making, taking cues from within and beyond the RNR model, including from punitive and traditional welfare-oriented approaches. Findings highlight the challenges of producing RNR-consistent decision-making, even when using a sustained scientific RNA implementation strategy.