Dangerous once, dangerous again? Until when and under what circumstances? How can the courts be informed? In the 1983 case, Barefoot v. Estelle (463 US Ct 880), mental health testimony on the likelihood of future dangerousness was allowed, even though many acknowledged the limitations of the behavioral sciences for predicting future risk. Since then, risk assessment methods have become increasingly sophisticated. Large scale studies were undertaken to develop instruments that would improve the percentage of correct assessments of threat, and they emphasized history and statistically proven risk factors rather than a focus on a defendant’s current presentation.
Psychiatric Risk Assessment is evolving
With an increasing understanding of psychiatric risk assessment has emerged an appreciation for factors that specifically reflect on the potentials of stalkers, domestic abusers, sex offenders, and violent offenders generally. This information is applicable to both criminal proceedings and to related civil and employment matters, such as parental rights cases.
As the sub-discipline of psychiatric risk assessment stands today, data upon which judgments about dangerousness or recidivism are to be made should meet the following criteria:
- “Dangerousness” or the potential for recidivism must be distinguished into clearly enumerating risk factors, nature of harm, and likelihood of occurrence
- An array of psychiatric risk factors must be assessed from multiple domains in the offender's life, across the offenders’ life-span, including diagnostic considerations
- Risk assessment and recidivism prediction should incorporate what is known about the pertinent sub-population, such as violent offenders, stalkers, or pedophiles
- More reliable predictions are available from actuarial research than mere clinical judgment alone
In recent years, forensic instruments for prediction of dangerousness have added to important aspects of psychiatric history to bolster the forensic psychological and forensic psychiatrist expert’s ability to predict the likelihood of dangerousness, under what circumstances and to what dangerous end. These considerations may have a substantial impact at sentencing. With these guiding principles, forensic psychiatrists can make expert recommendations about relative probability of risk and should provide comprehensive information about the risk factors upon which they focus in a given case.
Forensic Panel provides scientific and peer reviewed Psychiatric Risk Assessment
Here again is an area where the ethics and integrity of The Forensic Panel’s peer review are especially important to protect against the potentially tragic consequences of a distorted, unsophisticated or ill-informed medical opinion. The Forensic Panel’s commitment to reviewing all available information minimizes the risk of conjecture resulting in a wildly mistaken psychiatric risk assessment.
Risk management, which involves devising programs to help a person avoid criminal recidivism or dangerousness, focuses on those factors that may improve with intervention, such as drug treatment, assertiveness training, or medication interventions. Important factors in risk management include the quality of the individual's social support, living arrangements, and access to treatment.
While risk assessment is not always easy to assess, it is important to do so. Evaluations from The Forensic Panel carefully incorporate the latest insights into forensic psychiatry and corrections that reflects on recidivism risk for violence, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault or other sex offenses. An experienced, qualified psychiatrist of The Forensic Panel has the ability to do that. Furthermore, the oversight of peer review gives confidence to attorneys that the highest quality forensic psychiatrists are ensuring that conclusions about dangerousness reflect the state-of-the-art of forensic science and psychological research.