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Risk Assessment Research Findings. Dr Sarah Clarke Ahimsa (Safer Families) Ltd Plymouth, Devon Tel 01752 660330. Research findings - methodology. There are three dominant approaches 1. Unstructured clinical assessment

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risk assessment research findings

Risk AssessmentResearch Findings

Dr Sarah Clarke

Ahimsa (Safer Families) Ltd

Plymouth, Devon Tel 01752 660330

research findings methodology
Research findings - methodology

There are three dominant approaches

1. Unstructured clinical assessment

  • Largely or solely based on clinical constructs (as if violence propensity will somehow manifest itself at interview - “I cannot imagine that this is the sort of man who would be capable of ..…”).
  • No ‘rules’; no transparency; they ignore base rates; prone to bias and illusory (rather than empirical) correlations about risk.
  • Results consistently poor and rarely better than chance (background factors far more predictive than clinical impressions - interview poor means of data collection - self-report notoriously unreliable).

Conroy and Murrie 2007, Andrews et al 2008, Howitt 2006, Quinsey et al 2006, Bancroft and Silverman 2002

research findings methodology3
Research findings - methodology

2. Actuarial risk assessment

  • Employs a statistical prediction derived from a finite list of factors that have been empirically established to be positively correlated with future violence within a given population.
  • They typically include factors such as age, criminal history, substance use history, prior assaults, severity of injury (e.g. VRAG, DVRAG, PCL-R).
  • Consistently outperform unaided clinical assessments
  • BUT based almost exclusively upon criminal justice population and does not predict when, under what circumstances, against whom, and with what severity or frequency an individual will act violently; nor does it predict other behaviours that are likely to also to cause harm.

Quinsey et al 2006, Conroy and Murrie 2007, Maden 2007, Litwack 2001

research findings methodology4
Research findings - methodology

3. Structured clinical risk assessment

  • Draws on the science of actuarial approaches but attempts to take advantage of clinical insights.
  • The assessment approach is structured to ensure all crucial empirically-based risk factors are considered in every case but it allows the assessor freedom to examine factors that may be unique to the individual concerned (e.g. SARA, RAF).
  • The anchor for the assessment is still background information, usually most reliably derived from the court bundle, criminal records etc – risk assessment is essentially an investigative task.

See Maden 2007, Conroy and Murrie 2007, Mulvey and Lidz 1995.

research findings beware of untested assumptions
Research findingsBeware of untested assumptions
  • Some of the factors commonly assumed to increase risk are not supported by empirical research.
  • For example, denial is a commonly cited risk factor for violence recidivism, yet the research evidence for this is weak – we need to discriminate between ‘liars’ and ‘self-deceivers’.
  • Similarly, pregnancy on the part of the victim can lead to a reduction in risk, as well as an increase (or ‘business as usual’) – we need to know about the man’s attitude to the pregnancy.

See Maruna and Mann 2006, Henning and Holdford 2006, review by Jasinki 2004 and Jasinki and Kanfor 2001.

research findings the limitations of ra technology
Research findings – the limitations of RA technology
  • The importance of base rates is commonly ignored
    • Base rates (the prevalence or frequency of a behaviour in a given population) indicate how difficult it is likely to be to assess the behaviour in question.
    • Spousal homicide is so rare as to make it all but impossible to predict.
    • It is an irony within the field that where it is needed most, risk assessment technology is at its weakest.

See Conroy and Murrie 2007, Maden 2007, Beaumont 1999.

research findings the limitations of ra technology7
Research findings – the limitations of RA technology

2.Predicting onset is not the same as predicting recidivism

  • Many approaches fail to differentiate between family violence onset and recidivism.
  • The risk factors that predict onset are not necessarily those that predict recidivism.
  • For example, exposure to domestic violence in childhood is a powerful predictor of onset but a weak predictor of recidivism.
  • By contrast, mental health problems are weak predictors of onset but reliable predictors of recidivism.
research findings the limitations of ra technology8
Research findings – the limitations of RA technology

3. Predicting severe domestic violence may not be the same as predicting lethality.

  • Some commentators argue that lethal domestic violence is a “crime of cumulation”.
  • Others argue that there are discrete factors that can predict lethality.
  • On the other hand, research by the Dobash team found that a significant minority of homicide perpetrators exhibited surprisingly few risk indicators for either (suggesting that early attachment difficulties, untapped by most assessments, may be more significant than dominant assessment tools recognise).
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