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OVERVIEW OF SEX-OFFENDER ASSESSMENTS

Assessing sex offenders is not new, yet it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that many assessment tools were developed. This section provides a history of the development of sex-offender assessment tools. The goals of the assessments are also provided, with an acknowledgement that this is still a developing area. Also noteworthy, methods for utilizing sex-offender assessments are discussed.

Development of Assessments

Two generations of sex-offender assessments have been identified in the existing literature. The first generation involved "unstructured professional judgment." This type of assessment yielded more wrong than accurate results (Monahan, 1981). They were based on clinicians interviewing clients and basing their judgment on psychological constructs (Hanson, 2009). Thus, formal risk factors were not identified or relied upon to develop a prediction of risk. They were ineffective and only distinguished the most dangerous from the least dangerous (Mossman, 1994).

The second generation of sex-offender assessments has existed for a long time, although their use increased substantially during the 1990s. They involve relying on empirical-based risk factors that correlate with recidivism, such as criminal history and offender demographics. In 1928, Burgess developed an empirical-based recidivism assessment for parolees. Although not widely used, similar assessments were developed subsequently and heavily relied upon. For example, the Statistical Information on Recidivism Scale (SIR) was adopted by the Correctional Services of Canada to predict recidivism of male sex offenders. (It was later revised to the Statistical Information on Recidivism Scale-Revised 1.) These scales were not viewed as psychological tools, but rather were created to be used by criminal-justice decision makers. Another important assessment, Hare's psychopathy scale (Psychopathy Checklist-Revised), assesses psychological constructs as they relate to violence and criminality. In fact, many other assessments include the Hare psychopathy scale. Another psychopathy assessment tool is the Levenson Self-Report Scale of Psychopathy.

This second generation of assessments tools reflected a criminal justice model focused on community protection (Vess, 2011). As we will discuss in Chapter 11, the laws regarding sex offenders began to focus on protection of the community. Assessment tools began to identify high-risk sex offenders who required the most stringent treatment, including civil commitment.

 
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