The Downside of "Fail First" with High Risk Offenders

Posted by Evan C. Crist, Psy.D. on 4/16/15 12:22 PM

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Allowing High Risk Offenders to "Fail First"

While the danger of over-intervening with low risk offenders is generally acknowledged and respected, there is a trend toward policy makers ignoring the opposite side of the coin. For a variety of political and financial reasons, high risk offenders are receiving low intensity interventions under a “fail first model”. Instead of matching intensity of the intervention to the assessed risk level, high risk offenders are being provided low intensity interventions with the idea that when they fail, they will be provided a higher level of supervision. This policy has negative consequences for the following stakeholders: Victims, Offenders and The EBP Movement.

  • Victims: The fail first model increases the likelihood of new victims. “No New Victims” must be part of the Hippocratic Oath of community corrections.
  • Offenders: High risk offenders have experienced failure most of their lives. A fail first approach almost guarantees another failure for high risk offenders. In many cases, we have a small window of opportunity to reach a high risk offender before it is too late. Another failure may slam that window on our fingers (and theirs).
  • The EBP Movement: Fortunately, there are a growing number of advocates for implementing Evidence Based Principles (EBP) in community corrections. By adhering to the “do not over treat” side of the coin, but silently ignoring the “do not under-treat” flip side, we threaten the success of the entire EBP movement.

Lastly, it is my personal belief that one of the most important elements of risk has to do with an offender’s ability, or inability, to create structure in their world without external forces. Some high risk offenders, with the assistance of strong, caring probation officers, can create structure without residential placement. Similarly, some low risk offenders, even with help, cannot adequately create their own structure and therefore need the controlled environment of residential in order to focus on change. Future research on this topic is likely to help us better identify where offenders should be placed, not just their risk level.

Practitioners have access to more data than most researchers. Perhaps your own experience and data holds part of the answer to this question. Use your data!

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Topics: Community Corrections, Evidence Based Practices, Risk Principle

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