The First Step Act, signed into law at the end of 2018, focuses on improving public safety through rehabilitative programming and reducing the use and impact of lengthy prison sentences based on mandatory minimums for drug offenses and weapons enhancements, along with other improvements to the federal prison system. The law creates incentives for people incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to take part in programs and treatment aligned with their risks and needs and enables those assessed at the lowest risk levels to earn credits toward earlier release to community supervision by completing recidivism-reduction programming. At the core of the law is the development and release of a risk and needs assessment system.
As required by First Step, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently developed and released the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN), a risk assessment tool for people in BOP prisons. The tool predicts whether someone currently incarcerated is at high, medium, low, or minimum risk for reoffending based on several characteristics, or “risk factors.” One of the ways BOP will use this tool is to help determine who is eligible for early release. Only people who score low or minimum risk are eligible for early transfer from prison, either into home confinement, a halfway house, or community supervision.1
Below is an interactive version of the PATTERN tool, which you can use to see how each risk factor either increases or decreases a person’s risk score. For example, how many programs would a person in the high-risk category need to complete to reduce his or her risk score enough to be eligible for early release? What if the person also incurred an infraction conviction? How do the results change based on how old the person is at the time of assessment?
In simplest terms, those factors that make someone more likely to reoffend add points to the score, while those factors that reduce the likelihood of reoffending subtract points from the score. Some of the factors are “static” and cannot change over time (e.g., age at first conviction), while others are “dynamic” and can reasonably be expected to change during a period of incarceration. First Step requires that BOP conduct periodic reassessments and that the new risk assessment system include dynamic factors such as the number of programs completed so that people can move from higher to lower levels of risk.
Because the risk factors for reoffending can differ between men and women, DOJ developed a separate tool for each gender with slightly different items and scoring. The table below shows how the risk score corresponds with the risk categories for males and females. (See the full DOJ report for more information on scoring and how the tools were developed.)
In the interactive PATTERN tool below, start by selecting a gender. Then, select a response for each question. The results at the bottom, including the risk score and risk category, will update automatically.