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Section 2: The Need for Assessment

This section provides an overview on why and how assessment of individual's risks, needs, and strengths is an essential component of an effective jail transition intervention strategy. Just as we did in the previous section, we start with the five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) and one H (how) to help us with our understanding.

Who do you assess?

Assessment is used for those who are in the target population for intensive reentry interventions, as identified by screening for risk to re-offend.

What do you assess them for?

Individuals who score in the medium or higher range on screening should then be administered a comprehensive risk/needs assessment instrument to classify them by risk/need and offer them appropriate treatment and transitional services. The assessment process is likely to uncover many needs (criminogenic and noncriminogenic) among your incarcerated population that affect their current level of functioning and their ability to transition back to the community.

Where do you assess them?

Depending upon the assessment instrument utilized, officers or case managers will require some additional training to create the proper atmosphere for assessment. The assessment process should take place within a private area where an officer or a case manager can engage the incarcerated person in effective two-way communication. The dialogue should be somewhat structured and designed to facilitate discussion around the individual's dynamic criminogenic needs or changeable factors within the individual's life that, if addressed, will increase the probability of a successful transition from jail to home.  

When do you assess them?

Assessment is ongoing—beginning at intake and continuing in the community after the person is released. Here are some key times when various screening and assessments are most common:

Immediately after booking

  • Any person who screens positive for suicide risk, drug or alcohol withdrawal, or any serious medical need should be further assessed by a qualified medical professional and monitored immediately.

After admission to the jail

  • As resources allow, people who were identified by screening with medium or higher risk to reoffend should be administered a comprehensive risk/needs assessment instrument after being admitted to the jail.
  • Guided by information obtained as a result of comprehensive risk/need assessments, there may also be specialized assessments that will be useful to examine some incarcerated people for higher need areas such as substance/alcohol abuse or other criminogenic and noncriminogenic needs.

Every three, six, or nine months while incarcerated

  • Depending on available resources, individuals should be reassessed every three, six, or nine months while incarcerated to inform the construction of their initial jail-to-community transition plan and subsequent revisions to that plan.


  • Reassessment should also occur based on individual circumstances. Martin and Rosazza2 recommend six reasons to reassess:
  1. Improvement or deterioration of an incarcerated person's behavior
  2. A crisis in the incarcerated person's life
  3. Medical or mental health emergency
  4. Court documents and commitment orders
  5. An individual's request for reclassification
  6. An officer's request for classification of an inmate

In the community

  • Upon release, the primary agency charged with working with the individual should review the individual's file and determine what further assessments, if any, are needed.

Why do you assess?

Assessment informs decisions about classification, placement, and programming in the jail and transitional care upon release. Assessment is used to identify the criminogenic needs of an individual - those factors that are related to the likelihood of future criminal behavior and can be changed. It also indicates whether a specialized needs assessment is warranted.

Here are four key reasons for assessment:

  1. Allows you to see the big picture of your population's needs and trends over time.
  2. Allows you to make informed decisions regarding efficient and cost-effective strategies to address criminogenic population needs during incarceration and upon release.
  3. Helps identify prevalent criminogenic needs.
  4. Identifies the level of support, responsibility and training your staff and contract vendors need to work with incarcerated people before and after release.

How do you assess them?

A system of valid and reliable assessment requires the following steps:

  1. Develop or select assessment instruments that are or will be validated for use with your population.
  2. Create and implement protocols to apply the assessment tools to selected jail entrants.
  3. Train staff to apply the assessment tools.
  4. Identify the subset of incarcerated people to receive formal assessment (medium and high risk).
  5. Identify the assessment tool (or tools) to be applied to medium- and high-risk incarcerated people.
  6. Create and implement protocols to apply assessment tool(s) to jail entrants identified appropriate for more extensive assessment(s).

Click here for TJC Pre-Implementation Case Flow Process Screening and Assessment Template.

For more information

1. Christensen, Gary,  Jesse Jannetta and Janeen Buck Willison. 2012. The Role of Screening and Assessment in Jail Reentry. A Transition from Jail to Community Initiative Practice Brief.

2. Johnson,  Kelly Dedel and Patricia L. Hardyman. 2004. How Do You Know If the Risk Assessment Instrument Works? Topics in Community Corrections.

2 Ibid.

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Targeted Intervention Strategies: Screening and Assessment module. Please answer the following question.

Which of the following is not a reason to use an assessment instrument?


In this section you learned that it is important to conduct a risk and needs screening of all arrestees entering your facility. A comprehensive risk/needs assessment is then administered to individuals who score in the medium or high range on screening instruments.