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31 Behav. Sci. & L. 1 (2013)

handle is hein.journals/bsclw31 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Behavioral Sciences and the Law
Behav. Sci. Law 31: 1 7 (2013)
Published online in Wiley Online Library
(wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/bsl.2054

Measuring and Interpreting the Predictive

Validity of Violence Risk Assessments: An

Overview of the Special Issue

Jay P. Singh, Ph.D.*,t and John Petrila, J.D., LL.M.t

Mental health professionals are routinely called upon to assess and testify concerning
the violence risk of their patients. Expert opinion on risk assessment continues to
influence decisions resulting in the long-term denial of civil liberty or even death in
the case of capital proceedings. Today, many clinicians use structured risk assessment
tools to assist in these tasks. Although few would claim that violence can be predicted
without error, all but the most skeptical would concede that our knowledge and ability
to assess violence risk far exceeds that of three decades ago. This said, whether current
practices are empirically, ethically, or legally valid remains a question of great impor-
tance given the consequences that may follow erroneous assessments. And while 30
years ago there was a broad (albeit often overstated) consensus that expert opinion
on this topic was inherently suspect, today the field appears to operate on a broad
(albeit often overstated) consensus that practices have improved to a sufficient extent
to warrant the sizeable impact that violence risk assessments often have on individual
liberty, levels of service, and resource allocation. Copyright 0 2013 John Wiley &
Sons, Ltd.


We are currently in the third generation of violence risk assessment research. In the first
generation, the focus was on research concerning unstructured clinical judgements of
dangerousness. Much of this research examined the validity of clinical predictions, with
mental health professionals identifying dangerous individuals, and researchers assessing
the appropriateness of this label by determining whether those individuals with the label
ultimately engaged in violent behavior (see Kozol, Boucher, & Garfalo, 1972; Levinson &
Ramsay, 1979; Smith & Lanyon, 1968). As a result of seminal reviews of such research
(e.g., Ennis & Litwack, 1974) and influential naturalistic studies (e.g., Steadman &
Cocozza, 1974; Thomberry & Jacoby, 1979),, the American Psychological Association
(1978) resolved that clinicians were not professionally competent (p. 1099) to evaluate
dangerousness, and the American Psychiatric Association (1974) held that clinicians should
not consider the prevention of violence as within [their] proven capacity (p. 28). The
proverbial nail in the coffin came in 1981, when John Monahan effectively brought the first

*Correspondence to: Jay P. Singh, Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, University of South
Florida, 13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL, 33612, U.S.A. E-mail: jaysinghgusf.edu
tInstitute of Health Sciences, Molde University College, Molde, Norway
*Department of Health Policy and Management, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, U.S.A.

Copyright 0 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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