Enhancing Sexual Offender Laws through Actuarial Risk Assessment

Role of Actuarial Risk Assessment in Sexual Offender Laws
Role of Actuarial Risk Assessment in Sexual Offender Laws


The decades of the nineteenth century ushered in an exceptional number of federal laws geared towards management of sexual offenders. In California, the most common and controversial laws, are the sexual, violent person laws, vigorous development of structured approaches and actuarial supplement of traditional clinical risk assessment and schemes of civil commitment to supplement criminal sentences for exhaustion of dangerous sex offenders. The controversial legislative initiatives for sexual offender management have introduced heated debates. However, the reliance of the legislative laws has become central in determining the controversy. The second wave of legislation is currently focused on the detailed articulation of risk assessment standards within the legal frameworks. The essay explores the forensic use of actuarial risk testimony in the context of sexual, violent person laws.

Sexually Dangerous Person Commitment Laws; Review of Articles

The law adopts the concept of mental illness civil commitment approach to evaluate and address recidivist sexual violence. Primarily, the law is aimed at convicted sex offenders who near completion of their jail sentences that might be a threat for future sexual misconduct. According to American Psychological Association, (2009) the confinement continues until the person exhibits that the individual does not meet the standards. These laws have been in place for thirteen years; however, a small portion of the individuals who are committed has met the release burden. Therefore, the committed population is growing at approximately 5 percent. The sexual person laws are, however, very controversial. Firstly, the laws are constitutionally and morally suspects. This is because they lockup people for numerous years to prevent future sexual offences. Secondly, the programs scarcely diverse funds from sexual violence prevention and mental health populations.
As outlined by Bauserman, (2002) the figures for risk assessment concerns; dangerousness is one of two required components of the constitution of civil commitment. This is the unambiguous justification for the sexual criminals. The preventive detection is ethically and legally problematic with excellent future knowledge; however, the risk assessment imperfection exuberates ethical and constitutional concerns since it highlights the likelihood that low-risk individuals and non-recidivists may be in the midst of long-term loss of liberty.

Basic Concepts of Risk Assessment and Predictions of Dangerousness

The drawbacks of risk assessment mention the limited ability to assess the future risks of harmful sexual behaviour either by the experts or otherwise. The limits stem from the fact that the future is indeterminable and inherent human judgment. Secondly, the limit of the legal framework has vague SVP commitments (Virginia, 2012). Further, the courts have failed to establish enforceable and reviewable standards instead, relying on operationalized terms such as likely. However, ARA addresses all the shortcomings which present the best offer of behavioral science. The approach also comes with transparency in risk assessment, thus allowing courts to enforce clear standards of risk assessment.
This context uses trick instead of dangerousness. The risk addresses the presence of potential hazards and the occurrence probability for example; it is either the offender is dangerous or not dangerous. This technique is, therefore, continuous and dimensional as opposed to dangerousness which is dichotomous in nature (Rogers & Jackson, 2005). The use of risk outlines criminology with other healthcare disciplines and environmental protection. The four components of dangerousness mention the probability to harm, the magnitude of harm, the imminence of harm and the frequency of harm. The risk assessment incorporates three stages in the litigation process. First, is the admissibility of the judges, admission of the evidence, which is determined by the judges if the evidence is completely credited by the fact finder or the jury and that it satisfies the legal commitment standards. Thirdly is the assessment of testimony weight by the jury.

Clinical versus actuarial risk assessment

In the clinical method of risk assessment, the decision maker processes or combines the information in the head while in the actuarial assessment the human judges eliminated, and conclusions are established between the condition and the data (Bauserman, 2002). The clinical technique is ambiguous in the settings of the judicial system, however, a typical clinical evaluation examines the individual and reviews the gathered information, e.g., medical, court and institutional records and opinion is given with an expert. However, the actuarial risk assessment uses the actuarial scales using statistical analyses with known outcomes in the follow-up period. The statistical variables differentiate those who reoffended and those who did not reoffend in a given period. The variables form a scale which is tested with other offenders.
Rogers & Jackson, (2005) writes that when the scale has been applied on many offenders, the scores are expressed to estimate the probability of reoffending within a specific time frame. At this stage, a probabilistic table is developed based on experiences and range of scores for different time frames, for instance, 12, 60, or 80 months. The experience table is the focus of risk assessment, and the individual is assessed on scores combined according to the formula, and the result is compared in the table. It the yields a probability which represents the reference group that reoffended.


Scholars have attained important advances in forensic assessment over the past decade. Specialized approaches evidence, in the past, increased the sophistication of legal standards assessment, testing relationships and operationalizing relevant constructs. Sexual, violent persons determinations require specially clinical conditions, sexual violence, and impairment results of volition. In a nutshell, the mantle of experience must be achieved through research and painstaking analysis. The SVP demand the determinations of rigorous validated measures. 


American Psychological Association. (2009). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in family law proceedings. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association.
Bauserman, R. (January 01, 2002). Child adjustment in joint-custody versus sole-custody arrangements: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Family Psychology : Jfp : Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (division 43), 16, 1, 91-102.
Rogers, R., & Jackson, R. L. (2005). Sexually violent predators: The risky enterprise of risk assessment. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 33(4), 523-528
Virginia. (2012). Review of the civil commitment of sexually violent predators. Richmond: Commonwealth of Virginia.