Methodological issues

The literature on risk assessment has established that offender risk is “dynamic.” However, there has been very little work that examines the “dynamics of offender risk.” There are several issues that would seem to need to be addressed.

First, there is a possible problem with rater error in risk assessment. We need to ask, “What is changing when risk scores change?” It could be something other than risk levels. My research suggests that offender rating may be changing over time, and this is making it difficult to measure the true levels of offender change. We need to look at how error structures change over time and fix faulty assessment tools.

Second, we need to know more about how Trait and State risk factors are related. Offender risk is dynamic and includes both stable (trait) and unstable (State) components. That means that a person’s risk of offending will change over time as both Traits and States change. Some of any observed change is due to an actual change in Trait and some is due to a temporary change in State. This dual nature of offender risk has important consequences for the study of offender risk and ultimately for offender treatment studies. I am working on methods such as the Reliable Change Index (RCI) and individual growth curve modeling to address some of these problems.

Third, we need to determine how physical and mental development affect risk levels. It would seem that strength is not assessed in current attempts at risk assessment, and yet it could have important effects on the level of offender risk. In addition, greater emphasis needs to be placed on mental development. Intelligence is not static. It changes over time in a predictable way. We need to pay more attention to developmental factors as we work with offenders.

Finally, should research focus on group experiments or single case, time series designs? I have been working on some methods for individual growth curve modeling that could help probation officers track the risk levels of individual offenders.

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