Sex Offender Re-Offense Risk Assessment Videotape Program

Karl Hanson, Ph.D., Douglas Epperson, Ph.D., Dennis Doren, Ph.D., Thomas Grisso, Ph.D. David Thornton, Ph.D., Robert Prentky, Ph.D., Robert Hare, Ph.D. and Vernon Quinsey, Ph.D.

13 hours of video with documentation, $495.00

Published by
Sinclair Seminars

Review By David S. Prescott, LICSW

A passing glance at the research into predicting sex offender recidivism shows that clinicians have fared poorly at assessing risk. This insulting revelation has spurred controversy and self-examination. The only solace is that other types of unguided prediction, such as academic performance, have not done any better.

Actuarial scales that give (on average) more effective predictions than clinicians have offered dubious comfort to evaluators accustomed to comprehensive evaluations. Skeptics ask if less really does equal more. Whatever the case, there is a strong implication that evaluators of risk have an obligation to be familiar with the recent research around these scales.

These scales have an allure that can diminish to confusion, disappointment, and frustration. Many users hope that they will be able to predict absolute risk for a specific offender. Questions arise as to whether the scales apply to groups such as sadists, adolescents, or the developmentally delayed. As simple as these scales appear at the outset, knowledge of the research behind them is vital to using them in any meaningful way.

Lloyd Sinclair's video program is compiled from his three-day symposium featuring the authors of the most promising scales, including Karl Hanson, Douglas Epperson, David Thornton, Vern Quinsey and Robert Prentky, as well as Robert Hare, Ph.D., author of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R). The program covers virtually every element of sex offender risk assessment, along with presentations on related legal and ethical issues, among other areas. Each author presents their scales, their underlying research, and (except for Hare) scores typical offenders portrayed by actors. Hare presents an overview on psychopathy and discusses how psychopathic offenders differ from other sex offenders.

Most of the actuarial scales discussed in this program are described in ATSA’s recent pamphlet Risk Assessment, and need no further introduction. They include the RRASOR, Static-99, MnSOST-R, SONAR, VRAG, and SORAG. In addition, Prentky presents the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol (J-SOAP) and Thornton presents his Structured Risk Assessment (SRA). The SRA is an approach for measuring dynamic (changeable) risk factors. It also contains a brief measure of treatment progress and supplements Static-99. It is noteworthy that the SRA is currently available only in this program and in specialized training with Thornton.

The Sinclair program leads the viewer from Hanson and Bussiere’s 1996 meta-analysis through the development of the static factor scales and into dynamic risk assessment with the SONAR and SRA. Key elements such as ROC curves are addressed along the way. Aspects such as testifying in court and writing reports are also covered. Tom Grisso speaks to ethical issues around these instruments and risk assessment in general.

Dennis Doren ties all the threads together in a thoughtful comparison of the instruments and suggestions for their use. He makes the point that many of the instruments can be used in combination to assess various dimensions of offending, such as pedophilia and antisociality. The program concludes with a panel discussion of the authors (moderated by Anna Salter) addressing audience questions ranging from female offenders to the future of risk prediction.

A unique element of this program is that nearly all the presenters were present for the entire conference. Interesting discussions travel across presentations, including the role of dynamic factors in understanding long-term risk. These discussions also highlight areas yet to be addressed in understanding the prediction of recidivism, such as whether scale items are best understood as theory or actuarial framework.

The program places a deliberate focus on the potential use of scales for civil commitment evaluations. Although this ensures validation and methodological rigor in the scales presented, it also means that other approaches are not included. Empirically grounded (but not directly validated) schemes such as the Sexual Violence Recidivism – 20 are not cited.

Sinclair and his colleagues have compacted, but never reduced, vast information into a program accessible to beginning and advanced skills alike. It is comprehensive, versatile, and contains valuable information for treatment planning and decisions beyond formalized risk assessment. It also provides a first-class window into the fascinating thought behind the research into re-offense risk prediction.