This past week I received an email from my probation officer (PO) at the United States Probation Office (USPO) asking me to take the Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) test again. I intstantly recognized the test as the same test I was asked to take when I got out and met my PO for the first time. It seem that this test is used repeatedly throughout a supervisee's term of supervision to help probation determine the overall risk(if any) that the supervisee poses to society, as my PO explained:
"This is an annual requirement for your case plan that helps update and identify any areas we may need to further address. It prescribes your risk level as well which dictates the frequency I need to come by and bother you : )" - My PO.
I chose to leave my PO's name out of this because unlike his predecessors, I've never had a problem with him. He has always treated me fairly, with respect, and as far as I know he has always been honest with me, but he still does his job. I don't want to make his job harder by giving anyone with a gripe about this website or others a target for their frivolous phone calls, emails ,etc., so his name will not be mentioned here. He knows about the site, visits it often, and does not need to hear your opinion about it.
Since probation seems to have been honest with me lately, I might as well be honest with them. I think this test is for the most part useless. That is because the questions make its objective clear and the multiple choice answers obviously have options that would make a person appear more dangerous than others. The available answers are the same for every question, those answers are: 4 = Strongly Agree; 3 = Agree; 2 = Uncertain; 1 = Disagree. People are then given statements and asked whether or not they agree. For example, statement number 1 reads, " I will allow nothing to get in the way of me getting what I want." There are several way to choose an answer to this question and your answer could be evaluated in different ways. Obviously, anyone that strongly agrees with this statement may be someone likely to harm others that get in their way. Someone that just agrees with the statement may be someone that might harm someone in their way, but could also just be goal oriented. Someone that in uncertain may just be an indecisive person that isn't sure if they will try to get ahead in life. Someone that disagrees may be someone that is harmless, has no goals, or is trying to appear as harmless as possible. This test is obviously open to manipulation but could also maintain its usefulness by categorizing some scores as more likely to be the results of manipulative people, in such cases the subject's risk may be increased because their otherwise low risk is probably due to manipulative answers, but if they don't do it that way then the test is only useful for evaluating people that are both honest and dangerous, which is a rare breed. A person that is honest and dangerous is probably so angry or unstable that they don't care how dangerous they look, in which case the test accomplishes its goals by identifying unstable people with so much anger that they should be watched closely.
I recall the first time I took the PCRA, I had some pending appeals and my political views towards the system had a strong impact on my answers. At times I viewed the test as a venue for my views and in some ways wanted to look more dangerous as means of self expression. My position at the time was that I was being persecuted and that the government had no right to treat me the way I was being treated. My PO at the time said that I was of medium risk with a 50% probability of being re-incarcerated within my first six months. I managed to remain free for about 8 months. Today, I am no longer under such conditions, so my risk will probably be much lower. I was under supervision in a different case back then and now most of those conditions have expired. Now that I am free to do just about any legal activity, so my state of mind is different, and my score will surely be better this time. If I had not thrown a handful of chips at a jail guard while awaiting sentencing for my violation, I wouldn't even be on supervision anymore.
Anything is possible with this test. If you or a loved one is at risk for having to take this test then reviewing this sample test is recommended. One might want to run it by a psychologist to determine what answers are optimal. However, the test directs users to answer honestly and one might be at risk of being charged with a violation for giving dishonest answers to probation if they answer based on their desired outcome. Fortunately, people can honestly change their minds at any time for any reason and change them again at any time for any reason just as quickly. One could easily decide to agree or disagree with any statement for any reason including fear of what would happen to them if their opinion were something else. Under such circumstances anyone could agree or disagree honestly with any statement on this test while taking the test and then change their mind upon completion once fear of answering otherwise no longer influences their opinion. Under such circumstances the answers given would be absolutely 100% honest even if the answers do not reflect what the subject's opinion is 99.99999999999% of the time. That is because they had one opinion their entire life leading up to the exam, decided to honestly change their mind while taking the exam, and for whatever reason chose to honestly change their mind back to where it was before right after completing the exam. Such people are capable of saying one thing on the test honestly even if their opinion would be something else under any other set of circumstances. So, people that want to do well on the PCRA are best off deciding to be flexible with their views. Flexible enough to achieve a minimal level of flexibility that allows them to conform their views with the expectations of society for a minimal duration of time that is at least long enough to honestly complete the PCRA optimally.
After having finished the test, I stand by my above analysis that someone could easily manipulate it, but there are two requirements: First, the person taking it would have to be taking it for the first time; Second, the person's paperwork does not constrain their ability to selectively forget the past.
The questions leave little opportunity for someone to improve that has taken it before because most of the questions focus on the past and if you answer honestly without amnesia or a change of mind you will preclude yourself from being able to give a better answer in the future without being called a liar. I think the only way this test is really useful for measuring change is when it is given a second time and that second test shows an increase in criminal behavior. That increase could occur if undeniable information becomes known after the first test (ex: a violation, new charge, etc.) or you volunteer information that you did not volunteer before. Obviously volunteering negative information that otherwise would not be known is not going to make your score better.
If you see the option to select a better answer on the test, but know that your paperwork includes information to the contrary, then you are better off giving the best answer consistent with that paperwork. You don't want probation to see that you disagree with a statement consistent with something your paperwork says you did. Then you could have a problem.