||Violent Offenders: Appraising and Managing Risk
||Vernon L. Quinsey, Grant T. Harris, Marnie E. Rice, and Catherine
||American Psychological Association,
American Psychological Association
APA Order Department
P.O. Box 92984
Washington, DC 20090-2984
This 356-page book reports on a program of research that began 25 years
ago at the maximum-security Oak Ridge Division of the Penetanguishene Mental
Health Centre in Ontario, Canada. Most of the research has been reported
over the years in different book chapters and articles, but the authors
bring it together and draw conclusions about the prediction of violent behavior.
This is an especially timely topic with the sexual predator laws in many
states that require predictions to be made concerning the likelihood that
a sex offender will reoffend after his release from prison. The sexual predator
laws require the justice system to make decisions that balance the civil
liberties of the offender against the safety of the community. Such a balance
requires mental health professionals to assess the likelihood that the offender
will commit a new sexual offense. This group of researchers has produced
some of the most important research addressing this topic.
The first section of the book puts the task of violence prediction in historical
and methodological context. The difficulties in predicting violence and
the weaknesses of the research through the early 80s are discussed, along
with the solutions that have been used to overcome these shortcomings. The
inability of psychologists to make accurate predictions of violence based
on their clinical judgment is addressed, and the authors conclude that it
is doubtful whether clinical judgments can ever improve the predictive accuracy
of actuarial prediction schemes alone.
The second section describes the new generation of follow-up studies, whose
predictive accuracy was consistently higher than those obtained in the earlier
studies. A chapter in this section is devoted to sex offenders, and the
authors note that, of all the types of offenders discussed in the book,
the literature on sex offenders is by far the largest. The chapter describes
the researchers' efforts to identify characteristics of men that differentiate
them from nonoffenders and nonsexual offenders as well as characteristics
that predict future sexual recidivism. The probability of recidivism is
related to psychopathy as measured by the Hare PCL-R, the number of previous
sexual offenses, the age, gender, and relationship of previous victims,
and phallometrically measured sexual deviance. Factors which clinicians
have believed were related to recidivism, such as a history of having been
sexually abused as a child and general psychological problems, have not
been found to relate to recidivism.
In the third section the authors present their work on the development of
actuarial instruments for the prediction of violent recidivism. They first
describe their general approach in constructing their instrument, and then
describe their Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG). They next describe
their work in developing special instruments for prediction of violent recidivism
in selected subpopulations, including sex offenders. Although in their original
presentation of the VRAG (Webster et al., 1994) the authors recommended
making small adjustments to the VRAG score based on clinical judgment, they
now believe that there is "an extremely high probability that clinically
adjusted VRAG predictions are less accurate than unadjusted scores"
(p. 163). The third section ends with a chapter titled "Fifteen arguments
against actuarial risk appraisal" which answers the objections that
are commonly made against this approach.
The fourth section, on altering the risk of violence, contains a chapter
on treatment and management. Current treatment methods are not very effective
in reducing the likelihood of violent recidivism among serious adult offenders,
particularly those who are psychopaths.
Several appendices at the end include the scoring criteria for the VRAG
and the SORAG (Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide) and normative data. There
are guidelines for the necessary information to be gathered, along with
a detailed example of a psychosocial history and the VRAG scoring from this
This book contains the most recent information in this rapidly changing
field and the instructions on how to use the VRAG and SORAG are clear, detailed
and comprehensive. This book is essential for any psychologist or attorney
who may become involved in situations where this type of risk assessment
Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield, Institute for Psychological Therapies.
Webster, C. D., Harris, G. T., Rice, M., Cormier, C., Quinsey, V. L. (1994).
The Violence Prediction Scheme: Assessing Dangerousness in High Risk Men ().
Toronto, Canada: Centre
of Criminology, the University