Goals of Assessments

Many of the actuarial risk assessments discussed in this chapter provide a score that relates to a risk level, usually low, moderate, or high. Much information is needed, however, to assess someone (Hanson, 2009). Decision-makers, for example, want not only an estimate of risk, but an estimate of the potential consequences of committing a sex crime and possible mitigating factors (Hanson, 2009). An example of use of assessments is presented below in a summary of a bail hearing of an alleged sex offender accused of molesting a nine-year-old girl:

The judge was provided a document, called a superform, which generally spells out why police believe there is probable cause to hold someone in jail ... As a district court judge, [she] is asked to determine if police have proven that enough probable cause exists for the arrest. She is also asked to decide if bail is warranted. She is expected to consider whether the defendant poses a danger to the community and is likely to commit a violent offense, or if the defendant is likely to interfere with the administration of justice ... [The judge] declined to discuss [the defendant's] case specifically, saying it wouldn't be appropriate for her to talk about a case now pending ... In general, she said that she considers what information the police have provided in the superform. She also considers the static adult risk assessment, which uses a person's age, gender, and criminal history to predict future behavior. She also may hear from alleged victims or from people who support the accused. "These are difficult decisions. We take them very seriously. We're talking about a person's freedom and also the potential effects on the alleged victims and the effects on the public" [the judge] said. "We do the best we can with the information we have. We don't have the benefit of hindsight or a crystal ball."

(Hefley, 2014, n. p.)

In this case, the accused was released from jail without bail. This, however, is not always the case, as the judge may order a specific bail amount for the defendant to be released. Also, the judge can deny bail altogether, requiring the defendant to remain in jail until trial. The assessments discussed in this chapter are often used for similar purposes portrayed in the above scenario.

One researcher (Hanson, 2009, p. 173) provided a list of what assessments should do:

  • • Assess risk factors whose nature, origins, and effects can be understood.
  • • Enable reliable and valid assessment of clinically useful causal factors.
  • • Provide precise estimates of recidivism risk.
  • • Allow all relevant factors to be considered.
  • • Inform the development of treatment targets and risk management strategies.
  • • Allow the assessment of both long-term and short-term changes in risk.
  • • Incorporate protective factors as well as risk factors.
  • • Facilitate engaging the patient/offender in the assessment process.
  • • Be easy to implement in a broad range of settings.

The assessments that exist today fall short of addressing all of the above goals. Thus, we have much more progress to make.

Common Risk Factors

Research has identified several risk factors correlated with sexual recidivism among known sex offenders (Hanson, Helmus, & Thornton, 2010). These factors include demographics, prior offense history, and several psychosocial factors. In order from least to most correlated, these factors include: personal distress/mood disorder, psychosis, violence used in the index offense, substance abuse, prior violent offense, low intelligence, a juvenile criminal record, a prior adult criminal record, age, neg- ative/criminal companions, antisocial personality disorder/psychopathy, and deviant sexual interests (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005; Mann, Hanson, & Thornton, 2010). Each of these known correlates is included in the assessment tools discussed in this chapter.

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