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Mason professor helps evaluate tool to predict recidivism as part of landmark First Step Act legislation

July 22, 2019

Faye S. Taxman

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Friday the efforts to implement the First Step Act legislation passed in December 2018. Under the First Step Act, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that 3,100 federal inmates are being released due to both increases in good conduct time and the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. There is a 45-day study period for the new risk and needs assessment tool and implementation plans, as well as to refine and further develop the instrument and plans.

Faye S. Taxman, University Professor and director George Mason University’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence! (ACE!), is part of the six-person Independent Review Committee that reviewed the risk and needs assessment tool required as part of implementing the act. The committee began work in April, meeting with consultants once a week to review progress on the tool’s development and make suggestions.  

“This is an opportunity to integrate science into practice,” Taxman said.

The new tool, the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN), is designed to predict the likelihood of general and violent recidivism for all BOP inmates, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

“The overarching goal is to help the BOP better manage their prison population and use their programming resources better to target areas that will improve the outcomes of people in the justice system,” Taxman said, “reducing the risk when people get released by improving programming ‘inside the walls.’”

The committee members were also charged with making recommendations on how to link the tool to services that will make an impact with the prison population.

“The other outcome of the tool is to allow the bureau to be able to identify areas of need that the bureau should develop better programs for—what kind of services currently exist and what kind of gaps there are with those services,” Taxman added.

Taxman said the committee was concerned about identifying who is a true public safety risk due to violent crimes versus arrests for minor offenses, such as loitering or unpaid traffic violations.

“[The tool] achieves a higher level of predictability and surpasses what is commonly found for risk assessment tools for correctional populations in the U.S.,” according to the DOJ website.

Faye S. Taxman is a University Professor and director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence! (ACE!) at George Mason University. Her areas of research include evidence-based courts, supervision and correctional programs, including program design and implementation. She can be reached at ftaxman@gmu.edu or at 773-993- 8555.

About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest and most diverse public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 37,000 students from 130 countries and 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation, entrepreneurship and commitment to provide academic opportunities for students of all backgrounds.