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Evaluating the Risk Assessment Instruments Behind SVP Civil Commitment: Are They Reliable?


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  • 1. RISK ASSESSMENT 1RUNNING HEAD: RISK ASSESSMENT Evaluating the Risk Assessment Instruments Behind SVP Civil Commitment: Are They Reliable? Melanie Cabrera, M.A.
  • 2. RISK ASSESSMENT 2 AbstractAs of 2009, the number of registered sex offenders residing in the United States jumped to704,777 (NCYS, 2009). Juveniles accounted for almost 13% of all arrests for forcible rape in2005 (Department of Justice, 2006). Although recidivism rates for juveniles are much lowerthan their adult counterparts, the rates are still far too high at 7% to 13% for those who attendsome form of treatment. Given the seriousness of the crime, it is no wonder that public outcryfor containment and management of sex offenders resulted in various legislative acts includingSexually Violent Predator (SVP) laws allowing for the civil confinement of sex offendersfollowing completion of their prison sentence. To aid the Court in determining whether a sexualoffender qualifies for civil commitment under the SVP laws, a forensic psychologist may berequested to perform a risk assessment. As the courts rely on an accurate prediction of risk, themethods used by the psychologist must be reliable and valid. It has been argued that riskassessment instruments may not be valid when applied to individuals, as they do not take intoconsideration the diversity of the sex offender population (Hart, Webster, & Menzies, 1993).The following paper discusses the seven most commonly used risk assessment instruments interms of validity and reliability, the role of the forensic psychologist in SVP proceedings, andopportunities for future research.
  • 3. RISK ASSESSMENT 3 Evaluating the Risk Assessment Instruments Behind SVP Civil Commitment: Are They Reliable? As of 2005, there were 549,038 registered sex offenders residing in the United States andmore than 300,000 cases of child sexual abuse reported (Alloy et al, 2005; NCYS, 2005). As of2009, the number of registered sex offenders residing in the United States jumped to 704,777(NCYS, 2009). Such figures do not take into account the number of sex offenders who slipthrough the cracks of our criminal justice system, which could increase the numbers by 100,000or more nor does it take into account the illegal immigrant population, wherein it is estimatedapproximately 240,000 are sex offenders (Selepak, 2007). Moreover, as many as 5.3%, or 53 per1000 , of sex offenders recidivate within three years of release from incarceration and thoseclassified as chronic offenders may affect the lives of numerous victims before beingapprehended (Alloy et al, 2005; NCYS, 2005). Sex offenses committed by juveniles are equally a serious problem. Juveniles accountedfor almost 13% of all arrests for forcible rape in 2005 (Department of Justice, 2006). Moreover,one in two adult sex offenders began maladaptive and abusive sexual behaviors as juveniles(Righthand & Welch, 2001). Put another way, juveniles account for up to 20 – 30 % of all rapesand 30 - 60% of all child molestations committed each year (Chung, O‟Leary & Hand, 2006;Jordan Institute for Families, 2002; Knight & Sims-Knight, 2004). Although recidivism rates forjuveniles are much lower than their adult counterparts, the rates are still far too high at 7% to13% for those who attend some form of treatment. Recidivism generally occurs within the firstsix months following treatment. Given the seriousness of the crime, it is no wonder that public outcry for containmentand management of sex offenders resulted in various legislative actions such as Megan‟s Law,
  • 4. RISK ASSESSMENT 4the recently enacted Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, and Sexually ViolentPredator (SVP) laws allowing for the civil confinement of sex offenders following completion oftheir prison sentence. Sex offender risk assessments may be conducted for the purpose of Tierclassification under Megan‟s Law or other notification laws, parole eligibility or release fromincarceration. For example, the Sex Offender Board of Review within the Parole Board assignsthe Tier levels based on risk assessments using the STATIC-99, (Silva, personal communication,March 31, 2009; Loss, personal communication, April 13, 2009). Perhaps the most controversialuse of risk assessment involves civil commitment for SVPs following the completion of theirprison sentence. To aid the Court in determining whether a sexual offender qualifies for civil commitmentunder the SVP laws, a forensic psychologist may be requested to perform a risk assessment. Asthe courts rely on an accurate prediction of risk, the methods used by the psychologist must bereliable and valid. It has been argued that risk assessment instruments may not be valid whenapplied to individuals, as they do not take into consideration the diversity of the sex offenderpopulation (Hart, Webster, & Menzies, 1993). Moreover, that the basis of the assessment toolshas been derived solely from population-based probabilities, many have questioned the validityof the tools when applied to individuals. This issue has arisen particularly in the context ofsexually violent predator civil commitment decisions. Thus, the purpose of this paper toexamine the reliability and validity of the most frequently used risk assessment instruments.Through an analysis of available research, the STATIC-99, Minnesota Sex Offender SexOffender Screening Tool-Revised (MnSOST-R), Rapid Risk Assessment for Sex OffenseRecidivism (RRASOR), Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG), Sexual Violence Risk-20(SVR-20), Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG) and Violence Risk Scale-Sex Offender
  • 5. RISK ASSESSMENT 5version (VRS-SO) will be discussed in terms of validity and reliability. This endeavor takes anovel approach in that most research studies only compare three or four actuarial assessmentsand do not include clinical structured risk assessment instruments. Through this approach, theauthor hopes to provide insight into the most reliable tools. Further, opportunities for futureresearch shall be discussed at the conclusion of the paper. Data collection methodology For the purpose of comprising this report, the author relied on a document researchmethod, analyzing existing research studies and scholarly articles found through the PsycArticlesdatabase and personal library.“As with all research, the investigator must be aware of potentialerrors or biases in the documents she is using as data sources” (Fitzgerald & Cox, 2002, p.127).The reader is urged to be cognizant that most studies and articles chosen were originallydesigned for purposes other than that of this report. As a result, the author is limited by theoriginal researcher‟s selectivity in choosing their sources. To identify the articles and studies to be used, the author focused on the keywords “riskassessment” and “sex offender.” Other keywords used to narrow the search included “STATIC-99”, “MnSOST-R”, “RRASOR”, “VRAG”, “SVR-20”, “SORAG” and “VRS-SO”. Further, anyarticles written prior to 1990 were excluded. Each article located through thePsycArticlesdatabase and personal library was analyzed for relevancy. Upon further analysis,only those articles specifically addressing the assessment instruments in terms of validity andreliability. Studies not yet replicated, with exception to the VRS-SO study, were excluded tominimize false inference. Overview of SVP Law
  • 6. RISK ASSESSMENT 6 In Kansas v Hendricks, Hendricks contended that civil commitment followingincarceration violates double jeopardy and ex post facto provisions of the law. Under KansasSexually Violent Predator (SVP) law, an offender who is likely to engage in "predatory acts ofsexual violence" due to mental abnormality or personality disorder can be indefinitely confinedthrough civil commitment. Hendricks, a convicted child molester, appealed the decision to havehim committed under the SVP law, despite his agreement he suffers from uncontrollable urges tohave sexual relations with children. Ultimately, however, the US Supreme Court decided theSVP law does not violate the Constitutions double jeopardy prohibition or the ban on ex post-facto law. Further, the SVP law is not considered punitive if it fails to offer treatment for anuntreatable condition. Thus, the Court found in favor of the State in allowing SVPs to be civillycommitted. The reasoning was that the SVP law does not establish criminal proceedings andtherefore involuntary confinement under it is not punishment. Because the Act is civil,Hendricks confinement under the Act is not a second prosecution nor is it double jeopardy.Persons meeting the criteria for a Sexually Violent Predator may be civilly committed if they area danger to themselves or others due to mental illness or defect for the purpose of treatment.However, provisions should be made to ensure they have an opportunity for release shouldtreatment be successful. Seventeen states allow for SVP civil commitment (Seto, 2008). Because most SVPcommitment laws follow the Hendricks decision, four elements must be met before a sexoffender may be civilly committed (Boccaccini, Murrie, Capterton & Hawes, 2009). First, theoffender must have a documented history of sexual offending. Second, the offender must exhibitor otherwise possess a mental abnormality. Unlike traditional civil commitment, SVP statutesgenerally do not require a finding of a severe mental disorder; an abnormality may suffice.
  • 7. RISK ASSESSMENT 7“Because clinicians recognize that many sex offenders are not mentally disordered, this allowstheir confinement even if their behavior does not meet the standard for a diagnosable mentalillness” (Bartol & Bartol, 2008, p. 277). However, as Foucha v Louisiana (1992) makes clear, afinding of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is not “even when combined withdangerousness, a sufficient predicate for civil commitment” (Prentky, Janus, Barbaree, Schwartz& Kafka, 2006, p. 368). Third, the offender must have a volitional impairment that wouldprevent him or otherwise render him less able to control his sexual behavior. Finally, theoffender must be at significant risk for future offending. Present dangerousness may not beassumed, however. “It must be proven that the offender would be a high risk to society if hewere allowed to be free” (Loss, personal communication, April 13, 2009). Overview of Risk Assessment ToolsMnSOST-R The MnSOST-R is a 16-item actuarial risk assessment instrument “designed to predictsexual recidivism among offenders who have committed sexual offenses other than incest” (ascited in Boccaccini et al, 2009). Twelve of the sixteen items assess static predictors ofrecidivism, such as use of force. The other four items assess dynamic predictors, such asreceiving treatment while incarcerated (Boccaccini et al, 2009). Scores range from -14 to 31,with a score of three or under indicating a low risk of recidivism while a score of eight or aboveindicates a high risk of recidivism. In terms of validity, Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009) reported moderate predictivevalidity (d=.76, 95% confidence interval range = .65 to .87)for the MnSOST-R across twelvestudies. However, in the only published study using a United States sample, predictive accuracywas low at d=.32 (as cited in Boccaccini et al, 2009). In Boccaccini and his colleagues‟
  • 8. RISK ASSESSMENT 8(2009)study of Texas offenders, the predictive validity was deemed no better than chance forpredicting sexually violent recidivism (d= -.10) or the combination of sexually violent andviolent recidivism (d= .03), In Boccaccini and his colleague‟s study (2009) interrater reliability held a correlationcoefficient of .68, where the confidence interval at 95% was between .42 to .83. However, rateragreement was lower when the scores came from opposing evaluators. In this instance, thecorrelational coefficients were .38 to .48, although the same offenders were evaluated as inBoccaccini‟s sample (Boccaccini et al, 2009).RRASOR The RRASOR, designed specifically to predict sexual recidivism, examines fourvariables found to predict sexual recidivism: 1) number of convictions for prior sexual offenses,2) age upon release from incarceration, 3) any male victims, and 4) any unrelated victims (Harriset al, 2003; Seto, 2005). Total scores can range from zero, or low risk, to six, or high risk (Seto,2005). Several studies have indicate the RRASOR yields high predictive accuracy (as cited inHarris et al, 2003, Institute of Public Policy, 2006; Seto, 2005). Further, Harris, Rice and theircolleagues (2003) reported an interrater reliability coefficient of .95, where the confidenceinterval at 95% was between .81 and .99. Seto (2005) found interrater reliability to rangebetween .90 to .94.SORAG The SORAG is comprised of 14 items, 10 of which are identical to items found on theVRAG. Like the VRAG, the SORAG was developed to predict subsequent violent offenses,including sexual offenses. Several studies have boasted the SORAG‟s predictive validity to behigh (as cited in Harris et al, 2003; Institute of Public Policy, 2006). In fact, the median ROC
  • 9. RISK ASSESSMENT 9was .75 for the studies. Further, Harris, Rice and their colleagues (2003) reported an interraterreliability coefficient of .96, where the confidence interval at 95% was between .86 and .99.STATIC-99 At least thirty states used the STATIC-99 specifically for sex offender supervision or SVPdeterminations (Boccaccini, et al, 2009). The STATIC-99, an actuarial risk assessmentinstrument (ARAI), identifies 10 risk factors: the age of the offender, live-in intimaterelationships, prior incidence of non-sexual violence, non-sexual violence included in currentconviction, prior sex offenses, number of prior sentencing dates, prior convictions for sexoffenses in which there was non-contact, included unrelated victims, included stranger victims,or included male victims (Harris, Phenix, Hanson, & Thornton, 2003). The risk assessmentdecision is based on numerous factors including the degree of violence during the commission ofthe offense, the degree of sexual intrusion, victim selection characteristics, history of aggressionor sexual aggression, substance abuse history, presence of psychosis, mental retardation orbehavioral disorder, employment stability, degree of family support, and participation andresponse to sex offender or other treatment (Silva, personal communication, March 31, 2009;Loss, personal communication, April 13, 2009). Scores range from zero to 12, with a score ofone or below indicating a low risk whereas a score of six or above indicate a high risk (Harris etal, 2003). The instrument‟s authors further provide a table of observed recidivism rates for bothsexual and violent reoffenses. The table allows evaluators to identify recidivism rates foroffenders who scored similarly to the observed sample (Harris et al, 2003). The table is availablefor 2003 norms and 2009 norms (Boccaccini et al, 2009). In terms of validity, Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009) reported moderate to strongpredictive validity (d=.67, 95% confidence interval range = .62 to .72) for the STATIC-99 in
  • 10. RISK ASSESSMENT 10their meta-analysis of 24,000 offenders. However, in studies using United States samples,predictive validity dropped significantly from .43 to .50 (as cited in Boccaccini et al, 2009). InBoccaccini and his colleagues‟ (2009) study of Texas offenders, the predictive validity, althoughstill statistically significant, dropped to d=.30 for sexually violent recidivism and d=.22 for acombination of violent and sexually violent recidivism. In Boccaccini and his colleague‟s study (2009) interrater reliability held a correlationcoefficient of .61, where the confidence interval at 95% was between .33 to .79. Even when theevaluators were on opposing sides (prosecution or defense) in SVP cases, there appears to be amoderate level of agreement. In this instance, the correlation coefficients were between .58 to.64 (Boccaccini et al, 2009). Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009) report a higher level ofinterrater reliability (.90, CI = .63 to .97).SVR-20 The SVR-20, a nonactuarial assessment tool meant to incorporate risk assessment withcase management planning, measures 20 features associated with the offender‟s criminal historyand psychological functioning (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009). Such features include sexualdeviation, psychopathy, severe mental illness, employment issues, and lack of realistic planning.According to Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009), the SVR-20 is the second most commonlyused risk assessments amongst forensic psychologists. However, Seto (2008) points out theSVR-20 lacks the same level of support given to actuarial risk assessment instruments such asthe STATIC-99 and VRAG.VRAG The VRAG was designed to predict violent recidivism, including sexual offenses, amongoffenders. Unlike some other assessment tools, the designers specifically designed the tool to
  • 11. RISK ASSESSMENT 11predict violent recidivism amongst mentally disordered offenders as well (Harris, Rice, Quinsey,Lalumiere, Boer, & Lang, 2003). Total scores can ranged from -26 to 28 and individuals areassigned to one of nine categories depending upon their scores (Seto, 2008). Several studies have confirmed the predictive validity of the VRAG as a tool to assess theprobability a sex offender would recidivate (as cited in Harris, Rice et al, 2003). For example,the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) area for predictive accuracy in a cross-validationsample of rapists and child molesters was .77 (Harris et al, 2003). “The area under the ROC is ameasure of predictive accuracy that is conceptually and numerically equivalent to the commonlanguage effect size,” or Cohen‟s d (Harris et al, 2003, p.413). Further, Harris, Rice and theircolleagues (2003) reported an interrater reliability coefficient of .96, where the confidenceinterval at 95% was between .84 and .99. Hanson (1998) argues however that the VRAG is bestsuited to predict violent recidivism, not sexual recidivism.VRS-SO The VRS-SO, comprised of seven static and 17 dynamic items, is a rating scale “designedto assess risk and predict sexual recidivism, to measure and link treatment changes to sexualrecidivism, and to inform the delivery of sexual offender treatment” (Olver, Wong,Nicholaichuk, & Gordon, 2007, p. 318). Scoring is bifurcated between dynamic and static scorespre and post treatment under the transtheoretical model of change, which posits that offendersprogress through a series of stages as they attempt to modify maladaptive behaviors (Olver et al,2007). The model has yet to be incorporated into a risk/needs assessment for sexual offenders.Each item has an “objective” section that describes the underlying construct, such as deviantsexual preference, with individual item scoring ranging between zero and three. A score of
  • 12. RISK ASSESSMENT 12threeis deemed serious, whereas a score of zero is deemed as positive (as in positive progress).Total scores range from zero to 72. In terms of validity, Olver and his colleagues (2007) reported moderate predictivevalidity (d=.74, 95% confidence interval range = .68 to .80)for the VRS-SO in theirgroundbreaking study of Canadian sexual offenders. In other words, the VRS-SO predictedsexual recidivism with reasonable accuracy. The researchers further found that the VRS-SO hasacceptable interrater reliability (.66 to .80), “even when raters were required to rate fairlydifficult dynamic items from file information” Olver et al, 2007, p. 327). As the researchersnote, however, given their study was the first to assess the psychometric properties of the tool,cross validation studies with different sex offender samples is needed to increase thegeneralizability of their findings (Olver et al, 2007). DiscussionReliability and validity An assessment instrument is deemed reliable if it produces “similar results when repeatedmeasurements are made under identical conditions” (Bordens& Abbott, 2008, p. 126). Thus, interms of risk assessments for SVPs, we would expect the scores of a reliable measure to bestatistically similar upon replication and accurately predict the risk of sexual violence of anoffender even if the offender is assessed by multiple psychologists using the same tool. Thelatter reliability is referred to as interrater reliability.The validity of an assessment instrument isthe degree to which it measures what it is intended to measure (Bordens& Abbott, 2008). Interms of risk assessment instruments for SVPs, such an instrument is deemed valid if itspecifically measures the sexual offender‟s risk of committing another sexual crime.
  • 13. RISK ASSESSMENT 13 As Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009) point out in their recent meta-analysis, for theprediction of sexually violent recidivism, actuarial assessment instruments designed specificallyto determine violent recidivism (e.g. STATIC-99, VRAG, SORAG) or any recidivism aresuperior to empirically derived measurements and unstructured professional judgment. Onestudy indicates that the STATIC-99 is a statistically significant predictor of sexually violent or acombination of sexually violent and violent recidivism, which is most relevant to SVPcommitment (Boccaccini et al, 2009). The VRAG and SORAG predicts violent, includingsexual, recidivism better than recidivism known to be sexually motivated and may be best gearedtowards rapists (Harris, Rice et al, 2003). The MnSOST-R, however, was a better predictor ofnonviolent recidivism than recidivism that included sexual offenses (Boccaccini et al, 2009). Infact, the STATIC-99 “appeared to outperform the MnSOST for predicting the types ofrecidivism most relevant to SVP evaluation” (Boccaccini et al, 2009, p. 297). Although theSTATIC-99 has been empirically shown to assess risk with relative accuracy (e.g. Boccaccini etal, 2009; Hanson and Morton-Bourgon, 2009; Harris, Phenix et al, 2003; Harris, Rice et al, 2003;Olver et al, 2007) , it does not address all relevant risk or mitigating factors. Thus, “a prudentevaluator will always consider other external factors that may influence risk in either direction”(Harris et al, 2003, p.3). However, in terms of interrater agreement, the STATIC-99 showed lessvariability as compared to the MnSOST-R and other ARAIs when evaluators were on differentsides of the SVP proceeding (Murrie, Boccaccini, Turner, Meeks, Woods &Tussey, 2009).Finally, although the VRS-SO shows promise in SVP settings, the need for cross validation maymake forensic psychologists hesitant to employ the tool and possibly face expert testimonywithout the wealth of research at their side.
  • 14. RISK ASSESSMENT 14Forensic psychologist’s role and ethical implications The forensic psychologist‟s role is to aid the Court in determining whether a sexualoffender qualifies for civil commitment under the SVP laws through objective risk assessment.The final report should discuss elements of the evaluation most relevant to prongs two, three, andfour under the Hendricks decision without speaking to the ultimate issue of whether the personshould or should not be committed. “For expert testimony to be taken seriously, the riskevaluator needs to provide credible responses to three questions”, namely what are the factorsthat predict recidivism, how does the individual compare in terms of those factors, and what isthe probability the individual will recidivate given a specific period of time (Hanson, 1998,p.55). Melton, Petrila, Poythress, &Slobogin(2007) warn forensic evaluators that one should beskeptical and not assume that because an instrument has been commercially marketed to measurea certain psycholegal element, it is, indeed, valid and reliable. Moreover, the use of valid andreliable assessment instrument does not negate the need for collaborating evidence. Othermethods should still be employed. Under the code of ethics, the forensic psychologist must onlyuse assessment instruments acceptable to the scientific community and most in line with thepurpose of the assessment (APA, 2003). Similarly, the American Psychology-Law Societys(2003) "SpecialtyGuidelines for Forensic Psychologists" require forensic psychologiststo useknowledge "consistent with accepted clinical and scientificstandards in selecting data collectionmethods and proceduresfor an evaluation”. Understanding that normative data for ARAIs maynot fit the psychologist‟s jurisdiction, the psychologist has a duty to seek out the mostappropriate data. As with all assessments, informed consent in required for SVP evaluations. Theassessor‟s obligation is to fully apprise the defendant of the nature of the evaluation, what
  • 15. RISK ASSESSMENT 15information may be shared, what will remain confidential, and the purpose of the evaluation.The discussion pertaining to confidentiality limitations needs to be documented in the finalreport to the court. “Many reports fail to show the examiners notification to the defendantregarding the nature and purpose of the evaluation and the limits on confidentiality” (Nicholson& Norwood, 2000, p.17). Prediction of future behavior is not an exact science. Thus, the role of the forensicpsychologist in predicting future behavior is to objectively report risk factors as well asprotective factors to aid the court in determining whether the individual is a high risk to himselfor society. As with all court-related assessments, the psychologist should not provide an opinionas to the ultimate issue. However, recommendations for treatment, if deemed necessary, shouldbe provided in “if…then...” terms (Melton et al, 2007). In the same vein, evaluators areencouraged to educate the courts as to what ARAI scores say about relative risk, rather thanabsolute recidivism estimates (Boccaccini et al, 2009). This dilemma may present itself iswhenever “the adversary system forces an expert to make absolute „either-or‟ judgment(Wrightsman et al, 2002, p.44). Psychology, by its very nature, deals most often in probabilities,not in absolutes. Particularly in predictions of violence or sexual recidivism, there is nocertainty. SVP evaluation is an evolving science that defies absolutes. The legal system places constraints and pressures on forensic psychologists performingrisk assessments. Spurred by the Tarasoff decision, courts began to lean heavily on forensicreports of risk assessment and judges continue to rely on forensic testimony (Melton et al, 2007).Despite knowledge that prediction of risk is not exact, the courts fail to protect psychologistsfrom legal ramifications if an individual is released but commits a subsequent act of violence.“Expertise to confine is more developed than expertise to release” (LaFond and Winick, 1998, p.
  • 16. RISK ASSESSMENT 166). In such cases, the psychologist may be sued for negligent release in addition to sufferingfrom negative publicity, which may then tarnish his or her credibility and reputation. “Incontrast, there are typically no legal or reputational consequences when an examinee is predictedto be dangerous, whether the examinee is subsequently confined or released” (Melton et al, 2007,p. 301). Thus, the courts unwittingly pressure psychologists to lean towards a finding ofdangerousness when in doubt. However, psychologists should refrain from bending to theadvocacy pressures inherent in SVP proceedings through stretching or distorting the science(Prentky et al, 2006). Conclusion In terms of predictive accuracy, it appears that no single measure discussed in this studyis significantly superior to another. For prediction of sexual recidivism, the STATIC-99 andMnSOST-R appear most supported (Boccaccini et al, 2009; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009).However, this appearance may be due to the enormous amount of research conducted withrespect to the tools as compared to some of the others. In terms of violent recidivism, sexual orotherwise, the most supported tools are the STATIC-99, VRAG, and SORAG (Hanson &Morton-Bourgon, 2009; Harris et al, 2003; Seto, 2005). As SVP law for purposes of civilcommitment dictates that the offender must be at high risk for predatory acts of sexual violence,does this mean that forensic psychologists should only use the STATIC-99, VRAG, or SORAG?Boccaccini and his colleague‟s (2009) research seems to indicate that, in fact, the MnSOST-Rremains an appropriate tool for SVP commitment purposes in that the offenders in their samplewho were ultimately pursued for civil commitment had significantly higher scores than thoseoffenders not considered for SVP commitment, despite the more accurate prediction ofnonviolent recidivism. Olver and his colleagues (2007) clearly demonstrate the predictive
  • 17. RISK ASSESSMENT 17validity of the VRS-SO, which may also be useful in terms of assessing change in the offenderfollowing commitment. However, researchers should cross-validate the tool and attempt toreplicate the findings. Finally, as Seto (2005) found in his research, combining actuarialassessment tools does not increase the reliability or validity of scores at a statistically significantlevel. A common critique of actuarial assessment instruments lies in the normative data used tocompare offender scores. The lack of normative data effects predictive validity of theinstruments. Thus, it is recommended that evaluators use local data from their own jurisdictions.However, “appropriate local data is not always easy to amass or access, and small scale cross-validation studies are typically not sufficient” (Boccaccini et al, 2009, p. 284). Nonetheless, asSVP commitment further deprives an individual of freedom following completion of his prisonsentence, additional studies are needed to determine normative data for high-risk sexualoffenders. For example, in the states that allow for civil commitment and use the STATIC-99,base rate data should be amassed from samples within the state, rather than draw inferences fromthe large STATIC-99 dataset that offers little in the way of U.S. samples. We have just begun to study the use of ARAIs in SVP contexts. Through previousresearch, we know that the reliability and validity of ARAIs fluctuate from jurisdiction tojurisdiction. As indicated by Boccaccini and his colleagues (2009), offenders with higher ARAIscores are most likely to be pursued for SVP commitment than offenders with moderate to lowscores. Therefore, it is important that states that allow for civil commitment look into thereliability and field validity of ARAIs using their own data. “One way of understanding howwell a measure works in a particular context is to examine how rigorously and reliably users
  • 18. RISK ASSESSMENT 18employ the measure” (Boccaccini et al, 2009, p. 309). What works in Texas may not necessarilywork in Kansas, Massachusetts, or other states allowing for civil commitment of SVPs.
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