An article by Laurus van Essen, Huib van Alphen and Jan-Maarten van Tuinen, Dutch Probation Service.
An important task of a probation officer is to provide information to courts and prisons about the offender’s risk of doing harm, the risk of re-offending and to provide them with an appropriate risk management plan. To improve the process of making a report and to make it more efficient, the Dutch probation organisations have developed a new tool for making risk assessments and probation reports. During the Third World Congress on Probation in Japan we got the opportunity to present our new model and share our experiences with the other participants.
What started it…
In the Netherlands, around 1000 probation officers produce over 40.000 probation reports each year, often under time pressure and with strict deadlines. Currently probation officers mainly use the RISc tool, based on OAYsis, and several other tools, like QuickScan (a screening tool mainly used when offenders have just been apprehended) or B-Safer, a tool specifically for domestic violence cases.
There has been a growing dissatisfaction with the current instruments, both from probation officers and among researchers. The RISc focusses too much on static factors, this leads to deskilling professionals . The RISc, just like the OASys, is considered to be too complex and too time consuming . This results in probation officers that don’t use the tool correctly, which has a negative impact on the quality of the risk assessments. Furthermore, there is quite some overlap between the different instruments, which is experienced by probation officers as frustrating, because they have to answer the same questions several times.
Last but not least, the current tools are difficult to adjust and don’t include categories on, for instance, victim awareness, radicalisation or protective factors. An important objective therefore was to make a tool that we can easily continue to develop based on new research and developments, evaluations or feedback from professionals.
An integrated tool for risk assessment and probation reports
The Dutch Probation Service developed a scientifically based and easy to use instrument which can be used in all stages of the criminal justice process and for all types of offences and offenders. This tool makes it easier to produce high quality probation reports in an efficient way. We have integrated elements for specific offences/offenders, for example the Static-99R-Stable-Acute for sexual offenders and the VERA-2R for radicalised and extremist offenders.
While making the tool, we focused on professional structured judgement of the probation officers. However, to support probation officers with their risk assessments, we have integrated a Dutch version of the OXREC in cooperation with the University of Oxford to objectify their assessments.
We consider the usability of the risk assessment tool as one of the most important aspects for daily practice . That is why we developed it in close collaboration with the probation officers. We have designed the instrument in a way that it can even be used within limited time constraints. The instrument, for instance, automatically adjusts itself to the stage of the criminal justice process where the offender is in or to his characteristics.
We also have invested quite some time, together with researchers and probation officers, in formulating the questions that are asked in the tool as clear as possible. There are no different interpretations possible and we made it clear why the questions are included in the tool.
Another feature, highly appreciated by probation officers, makes it possible to easily access previous risk assessments without leaving the current one. The tool is integrated in the central probation system that makes it possible to automatically fill in the standard data (age, sex, offence, etc.), which saves time for probation officers as well.
By designing a modular tool, new categories and data or specific tools can easily be added to make sure the instrument stays ‘state-of-the-art’.
In September 2017, 200 probation officers started working with the new instrument during a two month pilot. After the pilot we will evaluate the instrument. We aim to implement the new tool in the Netherlands in the beginning of 2018.
Because of it’s modular design and scalability, the risk assessment tool can easily be adjusted for the use in different countries or in different contexts. We are happy to share our knowledge with other probation organisations. If you want more information, please contact us!
- Laurus van Essen: email@example.com
- Huib van Alphen: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jan-Maarten van Tuinen: email@example.com
 Williams, A. (2010). An Epistemological Chasm? Actuarial Risk Assessment Through OASys. In Nash, M., & Williams, A. (eds). Handbook of Public Protection. Oxford: Willian Publishing.
 Mair, G., Burke, L. & Taylor, S. (2006). ‘The worst tax form you’ve ever seen’? Probation officers’ views about OASys. In Probation Journal, Volume: 53 issue: 1, page(s): 7-23
 Aye Maung, N., & Hammond, N. (2000). Risk of re-offending and needs assessments : the user’s perspective. London : Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.