Risk assessments provide a quantitative means of summarizing someone’s history, character, and rehabilitative needs related to criminal conduct. These results can be informative when used to identify the appropriateness of special conditions.
Special conditions, in essence, are the “laws” which the defendant must abide by for the duration of probation. As such, each condition must be reasonably related to the circumstances of the offense or the history, character, or rehabilitative needs of the defendant; and each condition must be reasonably related to a legitimate governmental interest.
The assessment and classification of risk has two components. Static risk factors, such as criminal history, are not subject to change. Dynamic risk factors, on the other hand, are subject to change. Actuarial risk instruments, such as the LSI-R, attempt to quantify Dynamic Risk.
The proper use of these instruments is a critical element in determining what special conditions are appropriate in a particular case. For example, a condition that prohibits the use or possession of alcohol is appropriate for the defendant who gets drunk and beats up his wife. That same restriction, however, may be unnecessary for a defendant who infrequently drinks and whose offense was not alcohol related.
However, when risk assessments are used improperly they result in “arbitrary or oppressive treatment.” For example, risk classification is often used as an aggravating circumstance to justify imprisonment.
Conditions of probation should only include those conditions that the judge believes are essential to address the offender’s risks and needs. Imposition of additional conditions beyond those directly related to the offender’s risk level or needs only distract and impede the offender and probation officer and undermine the ability of both the court and the probation officer to hold the defendant accountable for compliance with essential conditions. –Roger K. Warren