Part 6: Managing the risks of reoffending

Department of Corrections: Managing offenders to reduce reoffending.

In this Part, we look at how the Department:

  • monitors and manages risk in the community;
  • manages risk in prisons; and
  • manages high-risk offenders in the community.

Summary of our findings

The Department's staff often work in a fast-changing, or what the Department calls "dynamic", environment. Managing some offenders can be challenging.

The Department has a structured approach to manage offenders' progress and respond quickly to concerns. The Department manages community-based offenders in line with how likely they are to reoffend. High-risk offenders receive more monitoring and closer supervision. This includes using the Intelligence (Intel) and the high-risk response teams, multi-disciplinary teams, and global positioning system (GPS) monitoring.

The Department has developed a dynamic risk assessment tool to assess how likely an offender is to reoffend soon. The tool ensures that a comprehensive assessment of risk takes place. The success of using the tool in the community has led to a similar tool being created for prisons.

Monitoring and managing dynamic risk in the community

The Department manages community-based offenders in line with their risk of reoffending. High-risk offenders receive more monitoring and supervision. Offenders are also managed according to their sentence. There are nine community-based sentences and orders. Figure 3 lists these sentences and orders.

Figure 3
The nine types of sentences and orders that community-based offenders are managed under

Sentences Orders

home detention

community detention

intensive supervision


community work


release on conditions (after short prison sentences)

extended supervision

post-detention conditions (after a sentence of home detention)

Source: Department of Corrections.

All offenders managed on sentences and orders in the community are required to report to their probation officer or for community service work. The frequency of reporting and how long it is required for is based on the seriousness of the offence and the assessment of risk to the public. Mandatory standards help probation officers to ensure that offenders meet their reporting times.

Meetings between offenders and probation officers can take place at community probation centres, or probation officers can make home visits. An advantage of home visits is that probation officers can assess the environment that the offender is living in. For example, if alcohol and drugs are present, the probation officer might move the offender to other accommodation. The probation officer can meet the people the offender lives with and assess whether they provide pro-social support. If necessary, the probation officer can issue a non-association order.

Dynamic risk assessment offender re-entry tool

Probation officers work in a dynamic environment. The Department has developed the dynamic risk assessment offender re-entry tool (DRAOR). Probation officers use the tool to assess the changing risk of reoffending or causing harm to others an offender poses.

The DRAOR is built on the RNR model (see paragraph 2.29), which classifies interventions based on risk and changing needs. It measures an offender's risk against 19 stable, acute, and protective factors. Figure 4 lists the 19 risk factors.

Figure 4
Dynamic risk assessment offender re-entry tool

Stable (slow-changing) factors Acute (fast-changing) factors Protective factors
Peer associates Substance abuse Responsive to advice
Attitudes to authority Anger/hostility Pro-social identity
Impulse control Opportunity/access to victim High expectations
Problem solving Negative mood Costs/benefits
Sense of entitlement Employment Social support
Attachment with others Interpersonal relationships Social control
  Living situation  

Source: Department of Corrections.

Stable factors take longer to change. They will usually only change with intervention or some work. They are factors in achieving what the Department calls long-term desistance from crime.3 The acute factors can change quickly and give the best indication of whether an offender is likely to reoffend soon. Acute factors can include a relationship break-up, losing a job, or starting drinking again. Protective factors are things that the offender cannot do on their own. They include having social or whānau support or getting (positive) advice from friends. Protective factors are important for helping the offender to remain free from offending.

The RoC*RoI (see paragraphs 3.8-3.10) identifies who is likely to reoffend, and the DRAOR indicates when someone might reoffend. The Department has used the RoC*RoI for many years. The DRAOR now complements it to provide a comprehensive assessment of risk.

Probation officers complete a DRAOR assessment after every session with an offender to check whether an acute risk has risen. The DRAOR uses a three-point scoring format (0, 1, 2) to score each factor, with 0 being low risk and 2 being high risk. These scores give an overall assessment of risk. The probation officer prioritises the factors that need the most attention for particular offenders.

The assessment process also includes identified risk scenarios. Risk scenario planning involves preparing several informed, plausible, and imagined alternative future events. It is not a prediction about what will happen but rather a projection. Probation officers use the assessment and identified risk scenarios to discuss real risk and the imminence of harm with the offender:

[We] used to say, "John is a high-risk offender," but you can't manage a label. But you can manage an identified high-risk scenario. This provides a structured way of discussing real risk with an offender and in deciding on how to manage the offender.

The DRAOR in action

A probation officer identified that a high-risk offender was at imminent risk of reoffending. We asked how he identified the risk, and he told us that he used the DRAOR. The offender's acute factors had risen because his living situation had deteriorated and the risk of him taking drugs had increased. 

The probation officer and a police officer decided to go together to the offender's house. They went together for safety reasons and to show the offender that they were working together. The probation officer convinced the offender to leave his accommodation at 4pm on a Friday and go to supported accommodation for the weekend. The offender was not exposed to drugs and alcohol and did not reoffend.

DRAOR scores are peer reviewed to ensure consistency between probation officers. Staff compare DRAOR scores and discuss them at fortnightly reflective practice sessions. These sessions help to mitigate any risk a probation officer might not see. District and practice managers regularly review trends in DRAOR scores and, together with practice leaders and service managers, work to improve practice.

The Department is carrying out a study to assess the effectiveness of the DRAOR. The study looks, over two years, at 5000 offenders who have left prison and are being managed with the DRAOR. Early results show that reoffending occurred when there was an increase in acute factors and a decrease in protective factors. Conversely, reoffending went down when acute factors decreased and protective factors increased. Early signs show that the DRAOR is an effective tool for predicting when an offender might reoffend.

Managing dynamic risk in prisons

The Department has used the DRAOR for three years. The tool has become business as usual for probation officers. The DRAOR's success led to the Department developing a similar tool for prisons. The structured dynamic assessment case management tool (SDAC-21) was initially piloted at six prisons and has since been introduced to the other prisons.

Similar to the DRAOR, the SDAC-21 identifies stable and protective factors. However, the SDAC-21 does not include the acute DRAOR factors because imminent risk assessment is not relevant in prisons. Instead, the SDAC-21 identifies seven responsivity factors. These are important for identifying issues that might prevent an offender from engaging and addressing risk. Another difference is that "employability" is included as a protective factor rather than an acute factor, as it is in the DRAOR. Figure 5 lists the 21 risk factors.

Figure 5
Structured dynamic assessment case management tool

Stable factors Responsivity factors Protective factors
Gang association Health problems Responsive to advice
Negative attitude towards authority Conduct issues Pro-social identity
Impulse control Personal distress High expectations
Problem-solving Unresponsive rehabilitation Costs/benefits
Sense of entitlement Hostility/interpersonal aggression Social support
Attachment with others Offence mirroring behaviours Social control
Substance abuse Learning difficulties Employability

Source: Department of Corrections.

Case managers use the SDAC-21 to produce an effective individualised case management plan. They assess and score the 21 stable, responsivity, and protective factors based on the offender's history and current circumstances. Case managers then consider relevant risk scenarios to help identify priority, or "keystone", risks, based on the information from the assessment. Case managers then use this understanding of the offender and their needs to identify and prioritise rehabilitation and reintegration interventions for the offender's plan.

By using a common language and approach to risk assessment, the two tools improve consistency throughout the Department. The Department is confident that using the SDAC-21 will result in a more seamless transition of offenders between case managers and probation officers. We understand that no other correctional jurisdiction in the world uses dynamic risk assessments in both community and prison settings.

Managing high-risk offenders in the community

The high-risk response team

The Department has several approaches for managing high-risk offenders. The high-risk response team is responsible for overseeing the management of high-risk, high-profile offenders in the community. They are an extra support to probation officers.

The high-risk response team identifies, in consultation with psychologists, offenders that are eligible for extended supervision. Applications for extended supervision are made to the courts, and special conditions of the extended supervision order are imposed by the Parole Board. An extended supervision order allows the Department to monitor sex offenders for up to 10 years after their prison sentence. Currently, about 230 people are on extended supervision orders.

The Department is preparing for the first offenders who are due to come off an extended supervision order in 2014 but who remain at very high risk of reoffending. Currently, the Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill is before Parliament. The Bill empowers the High Court to issue a public protection order to detain an offender when, at the end of a prison sentence or an extended supervision order, they pose a very high risk of imminent and serious sexual or violent reoffending.

Managing an offender on an extended supervision order

A multi-disciplinary team manages a high-risk sexual offender on a 10-year extended supervision order. Team members include probation staff, two psychologists, a sex treatment therapist, and the residential care facility manager where the offender lives. The team liaises with the high-risk response team in the National Office. 

The offender has been on 24-hour extended supervision for eight years. He reports in once a week, and probation staff visit his home each fortnight. The offender has two minders at all times, and the care facility staff report any incidents. 

The offender is highly manipulative and difficult to manage. Interdisciplinary meetings ensure that staff receive support. The information shared at these meetings ensures that the offender cannot play people off against each other. 

For example, at the meeting we attended, the residential care facility manager reported an incident involving a new female resident at the home. The offender admitted to the therapist that the incident had a sexual connotation, but he later gave the psychologist a different story. He told the psychologist that there had been "nothing sinister going on". Because the psychologist had already spoken to the therapist, she knew he was not telling her the same thing about the incident.

The high-risk response team is also responsible for identifying offenders for GPS monitoring and provides support to the GPS monitoring team (see paragraphs 7.19-7.21).

The intelligence team

The Department also has an Intel team. In general, intelligence is focused on high-risk sex offenders and offenders with a RoC*RoI score over 0.8. Historically, Intel focused only on prisons and putting together profiles of offenders of great concern, and the high-risk response team focused on probation.

Since the restructure, the two teams work closer together, and Intel now provides information to community probation. One Intel officer pointed out how difficult it is to measure the value of intelligence. However, everyone we spoke to who uses Intel, including the Police, commented on how valuable the service is. There is no doubt that Intel adds extra value to the Department's work in improving public safety by actively managing some high-risk offenders.

Multi-disciplinary teams

The Department also uses multi-disciplinary teams to monitor high-risk offenders. The teams can involve community probation staff, prison staff, Intel, the high-risk response team, case managers, psychologists, the Police, support people, whānau, and non-governmental organisations.

We observed several multi-disciplinary team meetings and gained an appreciation for how challenging it can be to manage some offenders. All the participants were committed to working together and dedicated to ensuring public safety. The meetings produced tangible actions that the Department's staff, the Police, or other participants had to carry out.

Multi-disciplinary team meeting

During our audit, we were scheduled to observe a multi-disciplinary team reviewing the risk management plan for a high-risk offender who had been released from prison one week before. The offender had several complex problems, including an anti-social personality disorder, a drug addiction, and an inability to cope on the outside. 

The team involved four probation staff, two police officers, two psychologists, a support person, and two representatives from the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Trust. The meeting was originally scheduled to identify any concerns or matters that posed a risk to maintaining community safety. 

However, the purpose of the meeting changed because the offender had breached his release conditions within two days of being released. He had also been hospitalised twice in 24 hours for overdosing on solvents. At the time of the meeting, he was in custody and due to appear back in court. 

He had been living in supported accommodation that he had nearly set on fire by cooking up solvents, in a pot on the stove, with Weetbix and two-minute noodles. It was clear that he was a danger to himself and to others. The team discussed options for managing him, including whether he was eligible for mental health treatment. In the end, the team decided that the best option was to oppose bail and have him resentenced. This was to give them more time to come up with an appropriate plan for him. They would try to get him into a drug treatment unit.

3: Desistance means the process of moving away from committing crime. For many offenders, it takes time to stop committing crimes. It starts with them committing less serious crimes before eventually stopping.

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