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Good Post. You mentioned that “the drawbacks of current risk assessments makes a positive contribution to forensic psychology by creating urge to find alternative methods of improvements…” .What improvements do you feel will be the most beneficial?




Risk assessments are used to determine the probability that a violent individual will reoffend again in the future.  One main advantage of a risk assessment is obviously that one can Risk gauge a person’s propensity to commit violent acts.  One such test is the HCR-20, the Historical-Clinical Risk, which is made up of 20 questions used to assess violence.  This assessment tool can be used to accurately predict violent offenders’ chances of recidivism (Gray, et al, 2008). 


These risk assessments are generally used in cases of civil commitment when determining the danger that a patient may pose to other people and their property. They are also used in prisons when inmates are eligible for parole or upon their release.  The HCR-20 for example, is considered to be a good predictor of future violent behavior, between .70-.76 accurate (Gray, et al, 2008).  The Hare psychopathology checklist, is often used in conjunction with the HCR-20 to detect for underlying mental disorders and illnesses. 

One benefit of using of using risk assessments is that they can be quite accurate in predicting future violent behaviors by analyzing clinical factors, and well as the person’s past behaviors.  These assessments may be used to determine treatment options for offenders. 


A weakness of these risk assessments is that they are clinically analyzed and interpreted by a psychologist.  This clinical judgement should be completely objective but that cannot be guaranteed, especially in settings where the psychologist operates in a dual relationship.  First, the analyzing acumen of the clinician is not accounted for.  Secondly, ‘actuarial assessments’ of violence are more accurate in determining likelihood of violence than clinically analyzed assessments (Murray, 2010).


Assessment of risk is the preferred name because prediction gives a sense of certainty in violence occurring in the future.



Gray, Nicole. Taylor, John. Snowden, Robert. 2008. Predicting violent reconvictions using the     HCR–20. The British Journal of Psychiatry Apr 2008, 192 (5) 384-387


Murray, J., Thomson, M. 2010. Clinical judgement in violence risk assessment. Europe’s Journal of Psychology. Feb. 2010.





There are three types of risk assessment practices currently in use: clinical, actuarial and anamnestic (Ackerman, 2010). Clinical risk assessment is where an evaluator uses their clinical judgment to issue an opinion as to the likelihood of recidivism. The strength of this type of risk assessment is that it is specific to the offender and not generalized. However, there are a number of weaknesses, such as the potential for bias and the lack of consistent procedures (Ackerman, 2010). Unlike the clinical risk assessment, a strength of the actuarial risk assessment is that it is based on objective data. A weakness of the actuarial risk assessment is that it can offer information without a useful explanation and will still requires the use of clinical judgment (Ackerman, 2010). Lastly, an anamnestic risk assessment is where the examiner evaluates each one of an individual’s offenses independently to look for patterns in order to predict future behavior.


Examples of current risk assessment measures include the Violent Risk Appraisal Guide-Revised (VRAG-R) and the Hare Psychopathy Checklists (PCL-R and PCL-Screening Version). For both measures, the best way to predict future reoccurrences of violent behavior is evaluating for psychopathy (Ackerman, 2010). One strength of the PCL-R is that it is widely considered to be the most effective measure of psychopathy (Jaber & Mahmoud, 2015). One weakness of the PCL-R is the training needed to administer and evaluate the results of the measure as well as the length of time needed to an individual to complete (Jaber & Mahmoud, 2015). The VRAG-R was created with the purpose of predicting the risk of an offender’s recidivism. One inherent weakness with the VRAG-R is that, while the measure has been used on multiple populations, the initial data was obtained from Canadian males. As such, research has shown that the VRAG-R is able to more accurately predict the potential for violent behavior in males than females (Hastings, Krishnan, Tangney & Stuewig, 2012). Finally, the VRAG-R is more applicable for predicting short-term recidivism, whereas the PCL-R is more applicable for predicting long-term recidivism (Jaber & Mahmoud, 2015).


There are different opinions regarding how to enhance the strengths and improve the weaknesses found in current risk assessment methods. Jaber and Mahmoud (2015) suggest one way would to be use a blend of actuarial and clinical methods. In doing so, one would gain the benefits of both methods. Conversely, Quinsey, Harris, Rice and Cormier (2006) advise against the blending of clinical and actuarial methods and instead only using actuarial methods.


I would have to say the term “assessment of risk” is preferable and far less misleading than “prediction of risk.” Assessment of risk states what is actually being performed – an assessment – and implies that the evaluation is objective than mere prediction, which has the connotation of being more subjective.






Ackerman, M. J. (2010). Essentials of Psychological Assessment: Essentials of Forensic


Psychological Assessment (2). Hoboken, US: Wiley. Retrieved from


Hastings, M. E., Krishnan, S., Tangney, J. P, and Stuewig, J. (2011). Predictive and incremental


validity of the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide scores with male and female jail inmates. Psychological Assessment, 23(1), 174-183. doi:10.1037/a0021290


Jaber, F. S., and Mahmoud, K. F. (2015). Risk tools for the prediction of violence: ‘VRAG,


HCR-20, PCL-R’. Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 22(2), 133-141 9p. doi:10.1111/jpm.12102


Quinsey, V. L. Harris, G. T. Rice, M. E., and Cormier, C. A. (2006). Violent offenders:


Appraising and managing risk (2nd ed.). The law and public policy, (pp. 197-223). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, xiii, 462 pp.