Assessment of risk of recidivism of sex offenders must improve

Assessment of risk of recidivism of sex offenders must improve

In the Netherlands, assessing the risk of a sex offender committing a new offense is not done according to the best available method. This is what the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children states in her report ‘Weighted risk: Assigning treatment to sex offenders in the Netherlands’. The National Rapporteur examined how the risk of recidivism among suspects is determined, and whether the treatment that is imposed is in line with the risk of recidivism.

The National Rapporteur examined the advice given by probation services and psychologists or psychiatrists to the public prosecutor and judge. The study answers the following questions: 1. Is the risk of recidivism of sex offenders adequately assessed in the Dutch judicial system? Are the tried and tested instruments, which are available, applied? 2. Do the advised and the assigned treatments match the risk of recidivism of sex offenders? The answer to those questions is “no” and “not enough”.

The best method is available

In order to correctly assess the risk of recidivism, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Canada amongst others use the method of actuarial risk assessment. This is a scientifically substantiated method, widely accepted as the best available means to predict recidivism. This method determines the risk through scoring by a validated instrument. Another benefit is that a suspect does not need not cooperate in the investigation in order for this instrument to be used, which means that an assessment is possible more often.

Best available method unused

In the Netherlands, this method is not yet used. The National Rapporteur reports that both probation services and psychologists or psychiatrists regularly omit any assessment of risk from their reports: in 23 percent of cases probation provides no description of the risk level, in 47 percent of cases the psychologists/psychiatrists omit such a description. In 22 percent of cases, psychologists/psychiatrists made a statement about risk without the use of any instrument. This method does not predict recidivism. When both parties do use an instrument, they use it as an additional tool only and not to fully determine the risk of recidivism. National Rapporteur Corinne Dettmeijer: "It is very important that the best method is the leading light in advising the court. Probation services and psychologists/psychiatrists cannot predict whether someone will commit a new offense. No one can see in the future. Therefore, using a scientific method is crucial.”

Too little or too much treatment

Treatment of a sex offender can only be effective if the treatment matches their risk of a repeated offense. The study shows, however, that the treatment in the Netherlands is insufficiently connected to the risk of recidivism. Because the correct method is not used, the risk of recidivism, as assessed now, is not reliable. Therefore, it is almost impossible to assign a fitting treatment, which means that sex offenders are sometimes over- or under-treated compared to what their risk of committing a new offense would warrant. Insufficient treatment is dangerous: a sex offender might fall into repetition which, otherwise, could have been prevented. Too much treatment, on the other hand, is also not desirable: treating a low risk sex offender can actually increase the risk of recidivism. Dettmeijer: "Nobody wants sex offenders to make more victims. And yet, in the Netherlands, we are not doing everything we can to make that chance as small as possible."