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The U.S. Department of Justice Creates Risk Assessment Tool to Help Determine Who is Eligible for Early Release Under First Step Act


The U.S. Department of Justice created the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (“PATTERN”) to help determine who is eligible to earn credits for early release under the First Step Act. An interactive version of PATTERN available at shows how each risk factor raises or lowers a person’s personal risk score for reoffending and can estimate whether they qualify for early release.

Since risk factors for reoffending differ between men and women, scoring varies by gender. The user is advised to begin by selecting the appropriate gender. Risk factors are divided into two categories: static and dynamic. Static factors are permanent but dynamic factors are mutable. PATTERN calculates two scores for each factor: the first is the person’s general risk for reoffending and the second is for the person’s risk of committing a violent offense. To be eligible for early release, men must have a general risk score below 31 and a violent risk score below 25. Women must have a general risk score below 32 and a violent risk score below 20. However, with one exception, each factor has a lower scoring assessment for women than for men.

For example, if a woman’s current age is 18–25 years, her general risk score is 25 points and her violent risk score is five points. But for a man of the same age, the scores are 35 and 20, respectively. Other static factors include whether the current offense was violent; whether there were any sexual offenses; and the criminal history score taken from the Presentence Investigation Report.

Dynamic risk factors include number of convictions for all institutional infractions; convictions for serious and violent infractions; and the length of time since the last infraction. PATTERN also subtracts from a person’s general and violent risk scores based upon number of programs completed. Qualifying programs are: adult continuing education; National Parenting from Prison Program; the Life Connections Program; the BRAVE program; the Challenge Program; the Skills Program; the Sex Offender Treatment Program; the STAGES program; and the Mental Health Step Down program. Based upon the number of programs completed, men can reduce their general risk scores by up to eight points and their violent risk score by up to four. Women may reduce either score by up to four points.

Other dynamic risk factors that earn score reductions include work programming; drug treatment while incarcerated (with the biggest reduction for those who don’t need treatment); and compliance with financial obligations. In only one category—history of escape attempts—are women scored higher than men with identical factors. 



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