Risk Assessment and Management of Serious Violent and Sexual Offenders: A review of current issues
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Public concern with the harm resulting from sexual and violent offending is now undisputed (MacLean 2000). Paedophilia in particular has aroused concern, not least about its frequency and the levels of harm associated with it. Finkelhor in a survey of 21 countries, including Canada and the United States, has established the existence of widespread child sexual abuse (1994). In England and Wales, Home Office statistics have established that males and females aged 10 to 15 are most at risk of indecent assault 'with 66 male victimisations and 327 female victimisations per 100,000 population' (Home Office, 1998a: 19). The physical and psychological harm caused by sexual offending is also well documented (Grubin 1998; Social Work Services Inspectorate for Scotland (SWSI) 1997; Cosgrove, 2001), with impacts ranging from minimal physical harm, to extensive abuse and psychological trauma.
1.2 Violent offending, particularly offences committed by those released from custody who commit an offence similar to that for which they were sentenced, has also attracted concern (MacLean 2000: 5). However, the MacLean Committee places this concern within recidivism rates for sexual and violent crime by stating that:
In 1998, 50 people were imprisoned for four years or more for a sexual or violent crime, having previously (since 1989) received a similarly serious sentence for a sexual or violent crime. (p. 5)
THE CONTEXT OF THIS REPORT
1.3 Recent years have seen various research, policy and legislative initiatives on sexual and violent offenders. In the Scottish context the most significant for this review are:
- A Commitment to Protect (SWSI 1997).
- Reducing the Risk (Cosgrove 2001).
- Managing the Risk (SWSIS 2000).
- The Sex Offenders Act 1997: Guidance for Agencies (Scottish Executive 2000).
- The MacLean report (MacLean 2000).
- Review of the Research Literature on Serious Violent and Sexual Offenders (Connelly and Williamson 2000).
- Current Risk Assessment Instruments: Annex 6 in the MacLean Report (Cooke 2000).
- The Millan report on mental health (2001).
- The Violent and Sexual Offenders White Paper (Scottish Executive 2001).
- The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. Introduced in the Scottish Parliament on March 26 th 2002.
1.4 In the United Kingdom the 1990s saw a growing preoccupation with public protection from the serious harm posed by sexual and violent offenders, and also a desire to respond more effectively to the growing risk presented by paedophiles (Grubin 1998). Similar trends can be identified in other Anglophone countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (Kemshall, forthcoming). The cumulative effect has been the pursuit of both legislation and policy for the preventative sentencing and selective incapacitation of 'serious' sexual and violent offenders, and more robust systems for the monitoring and surveillance of such offenders in the community (Kemshall 2001).
DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS
1.5 The MacLean Committee tackled the key issue of defining the 'target group of offenders' and in particular the vexed issue of being either 'over-inclusive' or 'under-inclusive' (p. 3). The Committee eschewed the simplistic approach of categorising either seriousness or risk by offence type, and chose instead to focus on the offender, and in particular those whose:
antecedents or personal characteristics indicate that they are likely to present particularly high-risks to the safety of the public. (p. 4).
1.6 Such offenders were deemed 'high-risk'. Both violent and sex offenders can be high-risk and may share some of the characteristics that define how and why they are high-risk (for example, in terms of their behaviour traits and attitudes to victims). However, the diversity of offender types and offences committed makes the presentation of them as a homogenous group difficult. Indeed, recent legislation has increasingly defined sex offenders as a distinct group requiring different responses (i.e. sex offender registration). Therefore, for the purposes of this report violent and sex offenders are treated as two different groups.
1.7 The MacLean Committee recommended:
- a new sentence, namely the Order for Life-Long Restriction (OLR), for life-long control of any offender considered to be high-risk;
- Risk Management Plans for offenders sentenced to OLRs to ensure appropriate management of risk;
- a new body, namely the Risk Management Authority (RMA), to assist agencies in their management of risk;
- improved arrangements for the management of mentally disordered offenders who present a high-risk 2.
1.8 Following a consultation process, the MacLean proposals were introduced in the Violent and Sexual Offenders White Paper and subsequently the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill (introduced March 26 th 2002). The latter sets the risk criteria in section 210E as:
the nature of, or the circumstances of the commission of, the offence of which the convicted person has been found guilty either in themselves or as part of a pattern of behaviour are such as to demonstrate that (either or both)-
- there is a likelihood that he, if at liberty, will seriously endanger the lives, or physical or psychological well-being, of members of the public at large;
- he is indifferent to the consequences, for members of the public at large; of the commission of such offences by him and is unlikely, if at liberty, to accord with such standards of behavioural restraint as ordinarily prevail within society.
1.9 This reflects the desire of the MacLean Committee to establish risk criteria rooted in antecedents, behavioural patterns, and personal characteristics as well as offence type.
SCOPE AND PURPOSE OF THE REPORT
1.10 This study is intended as a practical document focusing on those risk assessment tools most likely to assist personnel engaged in risk assessment and management. It draws upon both UK and USA literature, but is necessarily selective rather than exhaustive, and does not aim to replicate the exhaustive study provided for the MacLean Committee by Connelly and Williamson (2000). The review has paralleled an audit of risk assessment in Scotland by McIvor et al (2002) and a review of recidivism amongst serious violent and sexual offenders (Loucks 2002).
1.11 The primary focus is upon those assessment tools and management techniques most likely to assist police, prison staff and criminal justice social workers in their work with high-risk offenders. This remit has necessarily informed the scope of this review; some offence types, such as domestic violence and familial violence against children, have generally been excluded from this study as they are usually addressed by other assessment processes and management mechanisms in specialist settings such as domestic violence units and child protection case conferences. Risk factors for stalking, domestic violence and arson are reviewed in Offenders' risk of serious harm: a literature review (Powis, 2002). This review is also restricted to general risk tools for sexual and violent offending and those designed for the assessment of spousal assault for example are excluded.
1.12 It is hoped that this report will assist police, prison and social work personnel in their risk assessment and management tasks, with particular reference to the proposed arrangements in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.
1.13 The field is also developing rapidly, particularly in respect of assessment tools, and the audit by McIvor et al will establish the current position in Scotland. Nor should it be assumed that assessment tools developed elsewhere (for example Canada and the USA) will have transferability to the Scottish context without further evaluation and validation. In addition, the inherent difficulties in relying solely upon studies of largely white, male and convicted populations is acknowledged as this does not necessarily reflect the volume or frequency of the activities in the population as a whole, and the distinction between reconviction and re-offending is well documented (Lloyd, Mair and Hough 1994).
1.14 Specifically, the report aims to present an overview of:
- the key issues in risk assessment;
- the current risk assessment tools for sexual and violent offenders;
- principles of risk management; and,
- risk management interventions for these categories of offenders.
STRUCTURE OF THE REPORT
1.15 Chapter 2 outlines legislative provisions for high-risk offenders, as well as roles and responsibilities in risk assessment. Chapter 3 discusses definitions of risk, and the principal ways in which risk might be assessed (clinical versus actuarial methods). It also highlights those 'dynamic' risk factors most likely to assist personnel in their public protection work and the key problems with risk assessment. Chapter 4 gives an overview of available risk assessment tools for sex offenders and violent offenders. Chapter 5 deals with the issue of risk management, while Chapter 6 concludes the report, summarising the main issues involved in the area of risk assessment and risk management.