The Nuts and Bolts of Risk Assessment: When the Clinical and Actuarial Conflict
- Publisher: Howard Journal of Criminal Justice
The aim of this research was to examine the thought processes that practitioners follow when they are conducting risk assessments. Weighing up the probability that an individual will inflict harm requires the practitioner to apply clinical and actuarial approaches, and integrate static and dynamic information. This is a complex and inexact task, and one that has been found lacking in reviews of serious further offences. This research focused on a small, atypical subgroup of risk assessments; those where the actuarial information is at odds with the clinical judgment. The results indicated that practitioners are more likely to override actuarial information that indicates a low risk of harm rather than a high one, confirming the existence of the ‘precautionary principle’. The research also produced some important messages for practice, particularly a reluctance to reduce sexual offenders’ risk of harm even when evidence of all types was compelling, and conversely, a willingness to reduce non-sexual offenders’ risk on the basis of only flimsy dynamic evidence, and counter to actuarial pointers. The research concludes that a more sophisticated understanding of the evidence around dynamic factors would enhance assessments.