Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other: The Issue of 'False Positives' and 'False Negatives' in the Development of a Risk Classification Tool for a Juvenile Justice Population

Heather L. Pfeifer, University of Maryland at College Park

The increased use of risk-assessment tools in the juvenile justice system has brought about many changes in the way in which cases are processed and how individual offenders are handled. Yet, the development of these instruments continues to prove to be one of the most difficult research endeavors. Despite the great deal of diversity found within the juvenile justice population, agencies have often adopted a 'one-size fits all' approach when developing risk-assessment instruments. Unfortunately, such practices often produce a significant proportion of misclassified youth. Some who are predicted to fail don't ('[false positives'), while others who are predicted to not fail do ('false negatives'). While the first error is of greater concern to those interested in the de-institutionalization of the juvenile justice populatioln the latter poses significant concerns from a public-safety perspective. These issues are explored further within the context of a risk-assessment study presently underway for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.

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Updated 05/20/2006