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Criminal Risk Assessment

The assessment of criminal behavior is very important in terms of the prevention of crimes and cases of recidivism. In actuality, many specialists (Mathiesen, 1998) point out that the criminal risk assessment is crucial for the prevention of crimes because the adequate assessment of the criminal behavior and offenders contribute to the better understanding of actual threats offenders represent to the society. On the other hand, among the variety of criminal risk assessment tools, there is still no ideal tool or method, which allows identifying absolutely correctly offenders inclined to recidivism. Nevertheless, it is possible to single out such traditional methods of criminal risk assessment as clinical opinion and actuarial prediction, which have been used successfully and they are still popular tools of criminal risk assessment.

In actuality, clinical opinions are considered to be a traditional tool of criminal risk assessment. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that clinical opinions have historically fared quite poorly in terms of accuracy, with an effect size of .52 compared to matched controls (with complete chance being at .50). While some clinical practitioners can achieve greater than .52 (and some undoubtedly less), clinical opinion is still dependent on the competence and acuity of the assessor, not the assessing instrument (Rice & Harris, 1997). However, in spite of the long history of the application of clinical opinions as a tool of criminal risk assessment, this tool not always effective because of this it is inherently unreliable (Rice & Harris, 1997). Therefore, clinical opinions alone are not enough for the adequate criminal risk assessment and other methods have to be implemented to back up the decision concerning an offender, for instance, in case of granting an offender with parole.

At this point, it is possible to refer to actuarial prediction, which is another tool of criminal risk assessment, which is widely-spread today. This method is considered to be quite efficient, although it is also imperfect. Actuarial prediction involves a strictly evidence-based selection of only those risk factors empirically related to the cause of criminal behavior (Mathiesen, 1998). These risk factors, known as “criminogenic needs,” construct the basic building blocks, or precursors, to antisocial behavior, and can include poor parenting, impulsivity, substance abuse, criminal peers, and attitudes that condone the use of violence or justify the breaking of law (Mathiesen, 1998). In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that the assessment is grounded on specific factors and criteria, which are developed for offenders to reveal their inclination to recidivism and criminal behavior. However, these factors and, therefore, actuarial prediction cannot always take into consideration all factors that may influence the behavior of an offender. Moreover, similarly to clinical opinions, actuarial prediction focuses on the internal factors that affect the behavior of an offender. However, neither actuarial prediction, nor clinical opinion take into consideration external factors that may influence the behavior of offenders. For instance, social factors, such as the lack of integration in the community life, exclusion from the community, unemployment and other factors can push an offender to recidivism but neither of the two methods discussed above can take into consideration the impact of these factors.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that clinical opinion and actuarial prediction are imperfect methods of criminal risk assessment but they worth implementing in a combination to conduct extensive risk assessment.



Mathiesen, T. (1998). “Selective incapacitation revisited.” Law and Human Behavior, 22(2), 455-469.
Rice, M. E., & Harris, G. T. (1997). “Cross-validation and extension of the Violent Risk Appraisal Guide for child molesters and rapists.” Law and Human Behavior, 21(2), 231-241.