September | October 2018

Research Central: Risk Assessment and Behavioral Health Screening for Youth in Probation

OJJDP’s Risk Assessment and Behavioral Health Screening Project, cofunded in 2014 with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, examined whether using a risk assessment for reoffending coupled with mental health and substance use screening protocols improves case processing, service allocation, and recidivism rates.

The study encompassed multiple probation offices in Arkansas and Rhode Island. Both states administered a risk assessment instrument in conjunction with the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Version 2 (MAYSI-2) for mental health screening and the CRAFFT substance use screening tools. As one component of the study, the researchers examined service referral, how services were used, and recidivism outcomes of youth. They also studied if and how services and outcomes were influenced by the potential behavioral health needs identified in MAYSI-2 and CRAFFT.

Overall, the researchers found that mental health services were used more often than risk-reduction services in most sites and had little influence on recidivism. There was some evidence that substance abuse treatment reduced recidivism among youth identified in CRAFFT as having a substance use problem.

The researchers found variations across sites in the implementation of MAYSI-2 and CRAFFT and how the information was used. In one state, youth who scored high on the mental health and substance use screening tools were more likely than other youth to receive behavioral health services. This suggested that probation officers at that site followed policies and protocols for using these tools for referrals for mental health evaluations, which often result in referrals to mental health services. In the other state, however, youth scoring as critical cases on MAYSI-2 were no more likely than their peers to receive mental health services. In both states, probation offices used the CRAFFT instrument more appropriately to match youth to services.

In addition, the researchers found that only one probation office had a diverse set of service resources, many of which addressed delinquency risk factors. The others had limited service resource options and tended to rely instead on mental health services as the primary treatment option, rather than targeting risk-reduction services based on individual needs.

The study findings suggest that following both policies and protocols for using screening and assessment instruments and having a diverse array of service options influence the degree to which referrals to services match risk factors identified in the risk assessment and behavioral health screenings. If those referrals are not based on youth’s individual risk factors, then it is unlikely that use of a risk assessment would influence recidivism.


Read OJJDP’s Research in Brief, Risk Assessment and Behavioral Health Screening Project.

The final technical report describing the Risk Assessment and Behavioral Health Screening Project may be accessed on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website.