Risk Redux

Latest article by John Monahan and Jennifer Skeem (September, 2013):

Risk Redux: The Resurgence of Risk Assessment in Criminal Sanctioning

The article is available for free at:


Amidst a “dizzying array of risk assessment options that are oriented toward risk prediction and/or toward risk reduction”, Monahan and Skeem urge efficiency and simplicity.

The Appendix caught my eye. It is a listing of 25 well known risk factors neatly organized into 7 categories by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing Risk/Needs Assessment Project. Keep some of these in mind when you review recent high profile cases. Standard practice calls for an analysis of static factors and stable dynamic factors (acute dynamic factors are ephemeral). The best instruments have AUCs ≥ .70.

The Commission examined 125 risk factors and identified the most frequent:

Category 1: Demographics
· Current age

Category 2: Criminal history
· Prior adult convictions
· Age at first arrest
· History of probation/parole violations
· History of incarceration
· History of violence
· History of victimization

Category 3: Psychosocial factors
· Current employment
· Criminal associates or friends
· Current level of education
· Social support/quality of relationships
· Residential stability

Category 4: Mental health
· Serious mental illness (e.g., psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder)

· Emotional state
· Interpersonal anxiety

Category 5: Antisocial/Psychopathic traits
· Intimidating/controlling/manipulative personality
· Lack of remorse or guilt for offenses
· History of early childhood maladjustment

Category 6: Substance abuse
· History of illegal substance use or abuse
· Current substance use or abuse
· Negative consequences associated with current illegal substance use

Category 7: Dynamic predictors
· Procriminal attitudes
· Impulsivity
· Responsibility for actions
· Anger management deficits


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