How reliable are the predictors of sexual recidivism? Moral considerations can colour the judgement of pro Justitia reporters
background When estimating the risk of sexual recidivism, the specialised behavioural pro Justitia reporter in the Netherlands generally uses risk assessment tools, although it is the reporter who pronounces the final judgement.
aim To examine which risk factors reporters take into account when assessing the risk of sexual recidivism, to test to what degree this assessment is based on the scientific accuracy of the risk factors and to what extent the assessment is influenced by moral considerations.
method 151 reporters indicated how important they considered risk factors to be in the assessment of sexual recidivism risk in adult sex offenders. This assessment was compared to the predictive value of the risk factors based on current scientific knowledge and to the moral ‘unacceptability’ of these factors.
results The reporters’ judgement was moderately correlated to current scientific knowledge, but was also strongly correlated to moral ‘unacceptability’. Morally unacceptable behaviour (e.g. a lack of empathy with victim) was given too much emphasis. On the other hand, behaviour that was morally more acceptable (e.g. behavioural problems in childhood) was given insufficient weight in the risk assessment of recidivism.
conclusion There seems to be a considerable discrepancy between the reporters’ judgement and the actual predictors of sexual recidivism. It is undesirable that pro Justitia reporters allow themselves to be swayed by moral consideration. The risk of bias and subjectivity points to the need for substantial restructuring of risk assessment in the cases of sexual recidivism.