PSYC 2400 Chapter Notes -Statistical Model, Nomothetic, Sex Offender

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13 Apr 2012
Forensic : Risk Assessment
Nowadays, we asses both risk prediction and management – prediction and management are
correlated. Before, we used to stop at prediction (people were either dangerous or not). We have
also expanded on our assessment instruments: different types of risks, how risks change in
different circumstances etc. Risk potential can change over time.
Risk Prediction: assess the risk that people will commit violence in the future.
Risk Management: develop effective intervention strategies to manage that risk (prevention).
Example: comparison of two individuals...
John: lack of social support, lower education, history of antisocial behaviour, substance abuse,
didn’t respond well to prison (carbon copy of Jeffry Dahmer) etc: has not re-offended.
Henry: no real danger to society, repeated hospitalizations regardless of him taking his
medication, paranoid schizophrenia, poor hygiene and diet (which suggests he may not keep
taking his medication): has re-offended – he killed his neighbour.
Results: informal perusals of files are probably not good indicators of whether or not a person will
re-offend because regardless of your experience, most people would finish not knowing the
When are they conducted?
They can be conducted in both civil and criminal settings:
Civil Settings:
Civil Commitment: if you have a mental illness and you pose a danger to yourself or others.
Child Protection: protecting children from abuse (and potentially removing them from the home).
Immigration: prohibiting people from entering the country if they may pose a threat to society.
School and Labour Regulations: preventing acts that may endanger others.
Criminal Settings: this includes pre-trial, sentencing, release, etc. Public safety outweighs
solicitor-client priviledge.
Goals of Risk Assessment (ACT)
The following is a partial list of the goals of risk assessment in a parole board (in addition to
treating offenders as individuals):
Improve Accuracy: want to be confident that the person they’re releasing is a low risk and the
person they’re not releasing is a high risk.
Improve Consistency: risk assessors should come up with the same decision looking at the same
sorts of cases. This is a legally, ethically important variable.
Improve Transparency: their procedures must be as transparent as possible (to the victim, public,
federal government, CJS, etc). Describing why you used the procedure you did is the toughest
question to answer; it’s much easier to explainhow and what procedures you used.
In Canada, we use the follow 2 types of risk factors to assess risk:
Dynamic Risk Factors: variables that are related to recidivism (dynamic, criminogenic needs).
These change with time, less convenient and less reliable, less frequently used but they are
sensitive to change (with a level of intervention we can change the level of risk).
Acute Factors: change very rapidly, such as current level of substance abuse; your social
group; getting divorced; losing your job.
Stable Variables: they change slowly over time, such as levels of impulsivity; attitude towards
violence; anything related to inherent dispositions, traits and attitudes.
Static Risk Factors: these are variables that are fixed and unchanged (they simply exist in the
offenders lives), not hard to measure (convenient), frequently used in risk assessment, can be
reliably measure and are very predictive.
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Examples of static variables: three categories – demographic variables, history of criminal
behaviour, history of mental disorder. The presence of these doesn’t necessarily increase the
risk of re-offence. (Examples: The time at which you first offended, family history of alcohol
abuse, gender of the offender.)
There are also 4 types of risk factors:
Historical: static risk factors that relate to the events that happen in the persons past.
Past criminal behaviour.
Age of onset of antisocial behaviour.
Childhood history of abuse increases risk of violence, especially physical abuse.
Past supervision failure, escape or institution maladjustment.
Dispositional: risk factors that reflect the individuals traits, tendencies or styles.
Demographics: being arrested before 14, males.
Personality: impulsiveness and psychopathy; psychopathy combined with deviant sexual
arousal predicts sexual recidivism.
Clinical: types and symptoms of disorders.
Substance Use: drug and alcohol abuse is moderately related to recidivism rates.
Mental Disorder: affective disorder with schizophrenia indicates higher rates of violence.
TCO (threat/control override) describes symptoms where the person feels they can’t control
their environment and they fear people will hurt them; TCO symptoms can predict violence in
men (not women).
Contextual: risk factors that refer to aspects of the current environment (situational).
Lack of social support: instrumental (necessities of life), emotional, appraisal (give help or
courage) and information (new facts).
Access to weapons or victims.
Strongest predictors of general recidivism: first police contact, non-severe pathology (stress or
anxiety), family problems, conduct problems, ineffective use of leisure time and delinquent peers.
Big 4 Risk Factors:
Criminal History: static
Pro-criminal Personality: impulsivity, aggression
Pro-criminal attitudes: dynamic, stable
Pro-criminal associates: dynamic acute and dynamic stable
Not Risk Factors:
Low SES (socio-economic status)
Personal distress/psychopathology (low self-esteem and depression)
Fear of punishment
Verbal intelligence
Offence severity
Predicting Risk
There are four possible outcomes when predicting risk:
True Positive: correct prediction of re-offending.
True Negative: correct prediction of not re-offending.
False Positive: offender was predicted to re-offend but did not.
False Negative: offender was predicted not to re-offend but did.
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