|Are Juvenile Sexual Risk Assessment Instruments Adequate on Their Own to Assess Risk?|
The question really
synthesizes three essential questions:
(1) how accurately or meaningfully do these instruments estimate, or
predict, sexual recidivism in sexually abusive youth, (2) beside the question
of recidivism, what can these tools tell us about the young person being
assessed, and (3) how and when can we best use these instruments, and for that
purpose? Additionally, and as a starting point, we must also ask how well
future behavior can be assessed in any person, but especially in young people who
are in the very process of developmental and social change.
It’s a large question, but we
can say several key things. First, in terms of being able to accurately
estimate future risk, our most commonly used instruments are, at best, only partially
validated. More critically, a review of the research shows inconsistent,
varied, and contradictory results, and we could easily support the conjecture
in fact, none of the instruments are empirically validated (Rich,
2014). Thus far, our instruments have not demonstrated the
capacity for scientific
precision or reliability (Caldwell, 2013, Fanniff & Letourneau, 2012).
Nevertheless, what the
instruments can do well is identify
risk factors that were present in the life of the young person at the time of
the sexually abusive behavior, and those that were present then and remain
active today, or the dynamic risk factors, which themselves serve as targets
for treatment. In turn, this allows us to recognize the significant value of
juvenile risk instruments as tools that help us to understand risk for each
client, and thus build individualized treatment and case management plans (for
instance, Prentky et al., 2010). Here the
goal is not simply the “prediction” of future behavior but also to manage and
reduce risk (Viljoen, Mordell, &
Beneteau, 2012). In other words, our goal is to prevent, rather than simply
“predict,” recidivism. The task is to understand the risks for each individual
in “real” time so we can best manage and treat those risks, and in which
assessment sets the foundation for carefully targeted treatment.
no matter what the strengths of the instruments, and especially in treatment
planning (thus matching the principles of RNR), given their simultaneous
limitations, the answer is that risk assessment instruments should be used as
one part of a more comprehensive assessment of young people, nested within a
larger process that gathers information about and assesses young people in
multiple aspects of their lives, and across multiple domains (Caldwell & Dickinson, 2009; Colorado Department of Public Safety, 2002; Rich, 2009). Add to
that the changeable and changing nature of adolescence, and the need to always pay
attention to the developmental backgrounds and social contexts of adolescent
behavior. For this reason, not only must risk instruments be used only as part
of a more comprehensive assessment, but they should be marked over time by regular
re-assessment, recognizing that the further into the future a juvenile risk
assessment projects, the less likely it is to be accurate (for instance,
Worling, Bookalam, & Litteljohn, 2011).
M. F. (2013). Accuracy of sexually
violent person assessments of juveniles adjudicated for sexual offenses. Sexual
Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 25, 516-526.
M. F., & Dickinson, C. (2009). Sex offender registration and recidivism
risk in juvenile sexual offenders. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 27,
Colorado Department of Public Safety.
(2002). Colorado Sex Offender Management Board Standards and Guidelines for
the Evaluation, Assessment, Treatment and Supervision of Juveniles Who Have
Committed Sexual Offenses. Denver, CO: Author.
Fanniff, A. M., & Letourneau, E. J.
(2012). Another piece of the puzzle: Psychometric properties of the J-SOAP-II. Journal
of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 24, 378-408.
Prentky, R. A., Li, N., Righthand, S., Schuler, A., Cavanaugh, D., &
Lee, A. F. (2010). Assessing risk of sexually abusive behavior among youth in a
child welfare sample. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 28, 24-45.
Rich. P. (2009). Juvenile sexual offenders: A
comprehensive guide to risk evaluation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
(2014). Chapter 4: Assessment of risk for sexual re-offense in juveniles who
commit sexual offenses. In Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning
Initiative. Washington, DC: National
Criminal Justice Association, Office of Justice Programs (SMART), U.S.
Department of Justice. http://www.smart.gov/SOMAPI/sec2/ch4_risk.html
Viljoen, J. L., Mordell, S., & Beneteau,
J. L. (2012). Prediction of adolescent sexual reoffending: A meta-analysis of
the J-SOAP-II, ERASOR, J-SORRAT-II, and Static-99. Law and Human Behavior,
Worling, J. R., Bookalam, D., & Litteljohn, A. (2012). Prospective
validity of the Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offense Recidivism
(ERASOR). Journal of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 24(3),