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Sex offender risk assessment : consideration of human rights in community protection legislation
journal contributionposted on 2008-09-01, 00:00 authored by Jim Vess
ObjectivesRisk assessments provided to judicial decision makers as a part of the current generation of legislation for protecting the public from sexual offenders can have a profound impact on the rights of individual offenders. This article will identify some of the human rights issues inherent in using the current assessment procedures to formulate and communicate risk as a forensic expert in cases involving civil commitment, preventive detention, extended supervision, or special conditions of parole. MethodBased on the current professional literature and applied experience in legal proceedings under community protection laws in the United States and New Zealand, potential threats to the rights of offenders are identified. Central to these considerations are issues of the accuracy of current risk assessment measures, communicating the findings of risk assessment appropriately to the court, and the availability of competent forensic mental health professionals in carrying out these functions. The role of the forensic expert is discussed in light of the competing demands of protecting individual human rights and community protection. ConclusionActuarial risk assessment represents the best practice for informing judicial decision makers in cases involving sex offenders, yet these measures currently demonstrate substantial limitations in predictive accuracy when applied to individual offenders. These limitations must be clearly articulated when reporting risk assessment findings. Sufficient risk assessment expertise should be available to provide a balanced application of community protection laws.