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Sex Offender Risk Assessment: Consideration of Human Rights in Community Protection Legislation

NCJ Number
Legal and Criminological Psychology Volume: 13 Issue: Part 2 Dated: September 2008 Pages: 245-256
James Vess
Date Published
September 2008
12 pages
This article discusses human rights issues related to forensic risk assessment procedures.
The results indicate that actuarial risk assessment represents the best practice for informing judicial decisionmakers 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, and sufficient risk assessment expertise should be available to provide a balanced application of community protection laws. It is noted that risk assessments provided to judicial decisionmakers as a part of the current generation of legislation for protecting the public from sexual offenders could have a profound impact on the rights of individual offenders. This article seeks to 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. Based 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 provided, 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 are examined. The role of the forensic expert is also discussed in light of the competing demands of protecting individual human rights and community protection. References