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Official websites use. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites. Although the desire to predict the risk of future violence posed by individuals is likely centuries old, risk assessment efforts until recently have been relatively unsuccessful in terms of their predictive accuracy. Notwithstanding pseudoscientific methods such as phrenology which claimed to gauge behavior propensities based on measurements of the skull , risk assessment for many decades has primarily involved individual mental health professionals applying their accumulated experience and clinical acumen to produce a clinical judgment of the degree of risk posed by a particular individual.

In the three decades since the publication of Monahan's book, the relative accuracy of violence risk assessments has increased substantially. The ability to accurately assess the likelihood of future violent acts — and future criminal behavior more generally — is important to clinicians, policymakers and the public alike. In this context, risk assessment typically involves arriving at an estimate of the likelihood that an offender will recidivate that is, revert to illegal behavior after the individual experiences legal consequences or intervention for a prior criminal act.

Risk assessment serves many purposes throughout the adjudication process. It is often undertaken for dispositional purposes to help determine, for example, an appropriate sentence or custody level or the conditions of community supervision. In these situations, decisions are often predicated, at least in part, on the assessed likelihood of recidivism, with resources being allocated accordingly to promote community safety Kingston et al. Research has suggested that offenders convicted of sexual offenses have received more attention from policymakers than any other category of offenders over the past 25 years Ackerman et al.

Indeed, estimates of risk for sex offenders are used in various community corrections, institutional corrections and civil commitment decision-making contexts. Arguing from a policy standpoint, Tabachnick and Klein have stated that the of actuarial risk assessments in particular should inform decision-making at all levels regarding the supervision of adult sexual offenders in order to prevent recidivism. Given the role played by risk assessment in high-stakes decisions such as those involving potential civil commitment for those deated as sexually violent predators, as well as the possibility of lifetime community supervision, reliance on methods and procedures possessing a strong scientific evidence base is especially critical.

While much progress has been made regarding the ability of professionals in the field to accurately estimate the likelihood of future sexual reoffense, no one is presently able to estimate either the timing or the severity of such future criminal conduct J. Levenson, personal communication, May 23, Therefore, it is critically important to establish a clear understanding of exactly what risk is being assessed and to frame expectations accordingly. Current methods at present allow, in most cases, only for an estimate of the likelihood of both future sexual and nonsexual offending over a specific timeframe.

The accuracy of these estimates depends in part on the degree to which the individual offender being assessed matches a known group of sex offenders knows as the normative sample or norm group and the degree to which the factors included in the risk assessment accurately reflect the known universe of relevant risk factors. Sex offender risk assessments are most often employed in applied forensic settings for purposes of decision-making Doren, The typical venues for sex offender risk assessment include —.

Phenix, personal communication, May 10, , each of the structured approaches has its merits as well as its supporters and detractors Doren, ; A. Phenix, personal communication, May 10, Criminologist James Bonta has identified three generations of risk assessment methods: unstructured professional opinion corresponding to Hanson's [] unstructured clinical judgment , actuarial methods using static predictors corresponding to Hanson's actuarial approach and methods that include both static and dynamic factors referred to by Bonta as criminogenic needs.

By including dynamic risk factors in the assessment process, third-generation risk assessments can be used to both guide and evaluate the impact of intervention efforts. Recent studies have in fact demonstrated that the inclusion of dynamic risk factors can contribute incrementally to the ability of static relatively unchangeable risk factors to accurately predict risk for sexual reoffense Eher et al. There are three generations of risk assessment methods: unstructured professional opinion, actuarial methods using static predictors and methods that include both static and dynamic factors.

For accurate risk assessment to occur, the factors associated with the type of risk being assessed must be known. Knowledge about the risk factors associated with recidivism typically is generated through research in which the recidivism rate for offenders with a particular characteristic is compared to the recidivism rate for offenders without that characteristic, or for offenders possessing other characteristics Hanson, To date, no single characteristic that is, "risk factor" has been found in isolation to be a robust predictor of recidivism.

As a result, the assessment of risk by necessity involves the combination of a of risk factors in a meaningful manner. The strongest predictors of sexual recidivism are factors related to sexual criminality, such as a demonstrated sexual interest in children, a history of prior sexual offenses, the age of onset of sexual offending behavior and having committed a variety of sexual offenses. Criminal lifestyle characteristics e. More recent analyses of the specific factor structure of actuarial risk assessments have reinforced the stability of these two factors — sexual and general criminality Babchishin et al.

Recent studies of the structure of risk assessment instruments have also identified potential additional factors assessed by these measures Brouillette-Alarie et al. Recently, ificant focus has been directed toward a more contextual understanding and assessment of risk, conceptualizing risk as but one aspect of a larger and more holistic understanding of the individual.

These developments are part of a larger move away from a singular focus on deficits and psychopathology toward a view that incorporates consideration of assets and strengths. A of researchers have assessed the contribution of strengths, assets and protective factors to the prediction of sex offender risk Miller, ; Turner et al. Available at present are at least four risk assessment measures for use with adults that include assessment of assets, strengths or protective factors Miller, of a study involving 83 contact sexual offenders show good interrater reliability and negative correlations between the SAPROF and two actuarial tools.

Another aspect of dynamic assessment that has gained recent attention concerns the measure of change associated with participation in treatment. In a study that included adult male sex offenders under correctional supervision and enrolled in sexual offender treatment, study participants were assessed using a of actuarial measures as well as the item SOTIPS. One and three years following assessment, both the StaticR and the SOTIPS demonstrated moderate ability to rank order risk for sexual, violent and any criminal recidivism and return to prison.

When combined using a statistical procedure known as logistic regression, both the SOTIPS and StaticR consistently performed better than either instrument did in isolation. Furthermore, study participants whose SOTIPS scores suggested that they made progress in treatment demonstrated lower rates of recidivism than participants who didn't demonstrate a treatment effect.

The emergent emphasis within risk assessment on more positive and healthy aspects of individuals is also reflected in the literature concerning desistence from crime. De Vries Robbe and colleagues reviewed the available literature regarding protective factors and desistance from sex offending, and concluded there are three compelling reasons to include the assessment of strengths in sex offender risk assessment.

First, to do so may improve the predictive validity of current risk assessment instruments. Second, focusing on risk alone can lead to over-prediction of violence risk. And third, assessments that focus only on deficits and pathology lead to the stigmatization of those assessed de Vries Robbe et al. Rather than simply viewing the absence of a need as a strength, the desistence literature identifies certain characteristics as assets in their own right, such as positive social relationships and the presence of healthy coping mechanisms. While consideration of the above factors has added to the ability to accurately assess sex offender risk, the literature also has identified factors that do not contribute to the accurate assessment of risk.

Sex offender risk assessment, while similar in many ways to the assessment of other latent constructs psychological concepts within psychology and mental health, differs in at least one ificant aspect. The construct being assessed — the commission of a new sexual offense — is unobservable and is likely never to be observed by the assessor.

Sex offender risk assessment entails a process of estimating the likelihood of a future event based entirely on secondary, indicator variables Hanson, While actuarial risk assessment tools must meet standard criteria for psychological measures e. It is important to keep in mind that for purposes of risk assessment, the utility of a risk factor depends on its empirical relationship to the outcome being predicted Helmus et al.

The base rate is equal to the proportion of a group that shares a specific characteristic. For purposes of sex offender risk assessment, the relevant base rate is the proportion of convicted sex offenders who commit a subsequent sexual offense, either over a specified timeframe or over the course of their lifetime.

These studies found the five -year recidivism rate to be approximately 13 percent. However, it is important to remember that this figure is an underestimate, given that not all recidivist behavior is detected. The accurate assessment of risk involves gaining an understanding of all available, relevant factors associated with the known criterion or outcome behavior. While research findings are quite consistent regarding the historical, relatively unchangeable factors referred to as "static" risk factors e.

Neither of these instruments, however, has the research backing of the more established instruments of static risk, such as the StaticR and Static R. These instruments have the potential added benefit of providing targets for intervention.

The use of third-generation risk assessment instruments that incorporate both static and dynamic risk factors is becoming more prevalent. These instruments have the potential added benefit of providing targets for treatment. A variety of sex offender risk assessment tools possess acceptable, empirically supported psychometric properties Doren, , ; Hanson, ; Hanson et al. While a complete review and analysis of these instruments is beyond the scope of this chapter, a meta-analysis conducted by Hanson and Morton-Bourgon provides important insights concerning the relative accuracy of different approaches.

Their analysis consisted of findings drawn from distinct samples with a total sample of 45, sex offenders in 16 countries. The following types of risk assessment approaches were included in the analysis: empirical actuarial, mechanical using factors chosen primarily on the basis of theory or literature reviews , adjusted actuarial, structured professional judgment and unstructured professional judgment.

Hanson and Morton-Bourgon concluded that empirically derived actuarial approaches were more accurate than unstructured professional judgment in assessing risk of all outcomes — sexual, violent and any recidivism. The accuracy of structured professional judgment methods fell in between these two methods.

For the prediction of sexual recidivism, actuarial instruments deed for assessing the risk of sexual recidivism had the greatest predictive accuracy, followed by mechanical approaches deed for assessing the risk of sexual recidivism and actuarial instruments deed for assessing the risk of general recidivism.

Unstructured professional judgment and actuarial instruments for assessing violent recidivism risk were less accurate in assessing the likelihood of sexual recidivism. The predictive accuracy of structured professional judgment fell in between that of actuarial instruments and unstructured professional judgment approaches. Hanson and Morton-Bourgon also found that, for assessing the likelihood of sexual recidivism, the best-supported instruments were the following:. For assessing the likelihood of violent including sexual recidivism, the best-supported instruments were the following:.

Some risk assessment experts have suggested that the accuracy of purely actuarial approaches can be increased if certain dynamic risk factors e. Discussions of the relative merits of this approach can be found in Wollert and colleagues, ; Hanson and Morton-Bourgon, ; Doren, ; and McGrath, Cumming and Lasher, One dynamic risk factor that has received considerable attention in this context is the offender's age at the time of assessment.

The inverse relationship between age and criminal offending — as age increases, offending decreases — is one of the more robust findings within criminology. Age as an adjusting factor in risk assessment has received considerable attention not only because of the strength and consistency of its relationship to offending, but also because some actuarial instruments e.

As a result of these findings, the Static and Static have been revised to better for the impact of the offender's age at the time of assessment, resulting in the StaticR and StaticR. Both of these revised instruments do not need to be adjusted for age. Using age-adjusted risk tables is especially important when assessing older offenders.

These are dynamic that is, changeable risk factors that can serve as targets for intervention efforts. For a risk factor to be considered psychologically meaningful, there must be a plausible rationale that the factor is a cause of sexual offending and there must be strong empirical evidence that the factor predicts sexual recidivism. This latter requirement is best demonstrated through research associating variation between groups in the predictor proposed predicting factor with variation between groups in the rate of failure Hanson, Specific measures have been found helpful in the assessment of dynamic risk factors e.

While it stands to reason that clinicians would want to consider dynamic factors when assessing risk, doing so via clinical adjustment of actuarial instruments has not been found to be effective. Many studies have examined the effects of clinical adjustments to the of actuarial instruments, finding that "overrides" — a clinician's consideration of factors outside the actuarial scheme i.

All of these studies have involved the adjustment of actuarial sex offender risk assessments currently in use, with each study concluding that the adjustments made actually decreased the predictive power of the actuarial instruments. It is important to note that empirical research undertaken to date has yet to identify a single "best" assessment instrument. With this and the limitations of using only one risk assessment instrument particularly in especially high-stakes situations such as civil commitment evaluations in mind, clinicians have considered the potential benefits of using more than one instrument during the assessment process Doren, ; Hanson, , In fact, in a study of evaluators who conduct civil commitment evaluations, Jackson and Hess reported that Two primary rationales support the notion that using more than one instrument provides potential benefits.

First, classical test theory suggests that increasing the of items in an assessment increases reliability and coverage. Second, if there are multiple driving forces behind sexual offending behavior, and individual risk assessment instruments tap these underlying dimensions or pathways to sexual offense recidivism differentially, then the use of multiple instruments would have a distinct advantage over the use of a single instrument alone. As Doren , p. Indeed, the empirical evidence suggests that multiple dimensions or pathways underlie sexual offending, with a of scholars describing a convergence between two of these dimensions: sexual criminality and general criminality.

In fact, recent studies have found that combining these factors or dimensions in sexual offender risk assessment increases predictive accuracy Brouillette-Alarie et al. Further, Babchishin, Hanson and Helmus found that the RRASOR which taps the sexual criminality dimension and the StaticR and StaticR both of which tap the general criminality dimension all added incremental validity to one another, in spite of substantial intercorrelations and substantial item overlap across the three instruments.

Recent research indicates that even measures as highly correlated as the StaticR and StaticR add incrementally to each other Babchishin et al.

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Chapter 6: Sex Offender Risk Assessment