March 1, 2000
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION INMATE CLASSIFICATION
By: Christopher Reinhart, Research Attorney
You asked how the Department of Correction (DOC) classifies inmates and how reclassification occurs.
DOC assigns inmates to facilities and programs on the basis of a classification system. Enclosed is a copy of DOC's Objective Classification Manual, which describes the classification system in great detail. The following information comes from the manual.
Classification is the ongoing process of collecting and evaluating information about each inmate to determine the inmate's risk and need for appropriate confinement, treatment, programs, and employment assignment, whether in a facility or the community. It tries to balance inmate, departmental, and public interest while preparing inmates for their return to society.
The classification system is centrally managed by the director of offender classification and population management and locally managed by the head of the facility the inmate is assigned to.
The system is designed to objectively assess an inmate's security, custody, and treatment needs. It applies to all inmates regardless of legal status or sentence length. DOC also assesses inmate needs in seven areas: medical; mental health; education; vocational and work skills; substance abuse; sex offender treatment; and family, residence, and community resources.
An inmate's overall classification profile determines the appropriate facility assignment, supervisory approach, housing assignment, accessibility to the community, and program or job placement.
DOC tracks an individual throughout the term of his confinement. The system provides for scheduled reviews for security and custody changes and transfers among facilities and programs. Generally, DOC conducts regular reviews every six months and reviews due to new information. Other reviews include community release program placement reviews, overall level reduction reviews, and reviews due to disciplinary behavior.
DOC classifies an inmate each time he is newly admitted to the department. Seven factors determine the overall risk level:
1. the inmate's escape profile;
2. severity and violence of the current offense;
3. history of violence;
4. length of sentence;
5. presence of pending charges, detainers, or both;
6. discipline history; and
7. security risk group membership.
DOC assigns each factor a rating. One is the least risk; five is the highest risk. The manual provides more detailed information on rating each factor. After independently rating each factor, DOC establishes an overall risk level. The highest rating assigned to any of the seven factors determines the inmate's overall risk level. Thus, if an inmate has a two on six of the factors and a four on one factor, his overall rating is a four.
DOC uses mitigating and aggravating factors when rating an inmate. Aggravating circumstances increase the seriousness of the factor based on some behavior or action of the inmate. Mitigating circumstances reduce the seriousness of the factor. Aggravating and mitigating circumstances can increase or decrease the rating by one but it cannot raise it to level five.
Classifications for level five require approval of the director of offender classification and population management and placement into administrative segregation. The commissioner (or his designee) must approve a ranking below level three for an inmate serving a sentence for a sex related offense or with a history of sex related offenses (excluding prostitution and promoting prostitution). Inmates designated as a verified Security Risk Group member are classified as level three. Inmates serving an out of state sentence must be initially classified as level four.
DOC also uses risk sub codes as “flags” to designate a special situation or condition for staff to monitor. These include whether an inmate is likely to assault others while confined, likely to set fires, involved in organized group activities (other than security risk groups) that pose a threat to safety, homosexual, in protective custody housing, a suicide threat, likely to be victimized, or a youth.
Regular reviews occur at least every six months after the initial classification. The regular review includes review of (1) the appropriateness of the overall risk level, (2) pending charges or detainers, (3) disciplinary history, (4) risk sub codes, and (5) inmate needs. They also include a complete criminal history check. Staff members see the inmate prior to the review process unless safety and security prevent it or the inmate waives the opportunity. If DOC conducts certain other reviews that include a criminal history check, the regular review can be put off for another six months. A level four inmate with more the five years left on his sentence only needs an annual review.
Review Due to New Information
DOC must complete a review within 14 days of receiving significant information that could affect an inmate's needs or risk scores. This includes a new pending charge, increase in length of sentence, pre-sentence investigation reports, police reports, mental health evaluations, or designation as a verified security risk group member. The review does not necessarily require reviewing the entire classification process.
DOC must conduct a review (1) every three months for inmates under age 16 to re-assess medical and mental health needs scores, (2) within 14 days of all Parole Board actions, (3) within 14 days of return of a parole violator from the community into custody (classified as level three unless additional charges or information require an increase), (4) when an inmate is designated or renounces security risk group affiliation, and (5) for all sentenced inmates assigned to protective custody or chronic discipline.
Each eligible inmate receives a community release program review. This includes all the requirements of a regular review. The community release program allows eligible offenders an opportunity to reintegrate into the community, and can include assignments to transitional supervision, residential program, or pretrial supervision.
DOC also conducts reviews for serious or repetitive disciplinary violations. And level reduction reviews are based on the percentage of time served.