Revisiting the Unfortunately Very White History of the Development of Risk Assessment Tools and Reconsidering How We Build More Equitable Tools for the Future


Tuesday, February 27, 2024
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Session Type: Workshop

Although many probation agencies use risk need assessments (RNAs), some practitioners and advocates protest the use of RNA tools citing inherent bias and racism in the tool. Most often, critics cite bias data as their main concern. Rarely do critics cite, but equally concerning, the historical development of RNA tools. Tools in practice today include several variables reflecting various crime theories about why people commit crime. However, these theories are built exclusively by white researchers who tested these theories on predominately white populations, and these theories rarely consider the wider external or social context of people including structural racism and historic disinvestment in communities themselves that might encourage crime. This historical development might explain why RNA tools themselves show marginally better results than individual decision-making on more diverse probation populations. In this session, presenters will engage with audience members about their knowledge and experience with crime theories tested in RNA tools, discuss the foundational research informing these criminological theories, and call upon practitioners to brainstorm new ways to conceptualize variables for RNA tools to create a more thoughtful, culturally relevant, and equitable assessment tools that not only considers the diversity of people, but predict success on probation rather than failure.


Dr. Kimberly Kras
Assistant Professor, San Diego State University

Kimberly R. Kras, Ph.D. (she/her), is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University, where she teaches in the Criminal Justice and Public Administration programs. She earned her Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, following a career with the Missouri Division of Probation and Parole. Dr. Kras’ research examines the lived experiences of people experiencing reentry from prison and their process toward desistance. Dr. Kras also considers how community corrections organizations and their staff employ evidence-based practices to help (or hinder) the reintegration of system-impacted people. Recently, Dr. Kras has been working with community-based organizations to understand the role of employment and support in desistance.

Shannon Magnuson
Research Associate, Justice System Partners

Shannon Magnuson, Ph.D. (she/her), is a Senior Associate at Justice System Partners (JSP). She has ten years of experience conducting meaningful research for practitioner settings; providing evidence-informed technical assistance to local, state, and federal partners; and, developing creative and research-based training curriculum for practitioners. She has developed several trainings related to risk assessment tools and delivered many trainings related to common tools (e.g., LSI-R, COMPAS). While at JSP, much of her research relates to implementing equitable and culturally responsive policies and practices in legal systems. Importantly, her work centers the humane and dignified care of people who have contact with the criminal legal system.