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Assessment and Reporting for Sentencing


Assessment


Consider carefully whether the assessment methods used are empirically sound for the person you are assessing; do not, for example, use a risk assessment tool for a person with intellectual disability that has no validity demonstrated for this group. Establish at the outset what question is being asked and whether you are confident that you can answer the direct question posed – for example: ‘What is the probability that this defendant will kill again?’ is not a question to which you can validly and reliably give an answer – and then inform the person instructing you of your initial view on the question.


Instructions can all be about future violence, but with very different types of implied response, for example:


• What is the risk of future violence? • Please predict the likelihood of serious violence in prison. • What is the risk of further homicide after release from prison?


Certainly, underlying any request for risk assessment is the question ‘In what circumstance?’ Hence, in regard to the test of ‘beyond reformation’, it may be that the defendant is considered at much higher risk of repeated severe violence were he to be in the community than in prison. So if, in avoiding the death penalty, he will be incarcerated in any event for many years, perhaps effectively for ‘whole life’, even if not sentenced to such in name, then he is far less ‘beyond reformation’ – if that is addressed in terms solely of the risk of future violence – in prison than he would be in the community.


Since risk assessment in clinical practice is always context specific, ask ‘in relation to what


circumstance(s) do you wish risk to be assessed?’ If there is a question about ‘risk after release’ then that should be addressed within that specific context (although this might be extremely difficult, given the vast uncertainty about risk factors potentially relevant 20 or 30 years into the future).


Actuarially (see Chapter 7), there are generally equivocal or low rates of serious violence by people convicted of capital offences. And the rate is lower for prisoners whose sentences have been commuted than for those in prison awaiting execution. Rates of prison homicide are low. Accepting that it is not possible validly to go from ‘the group’ to ‘the individual’ (see Chapter 7), this would imply that the most likely risk prediction to be correct is that an individual will not commit a further act of serious violence.


Assessment should consider those factors that have been demonstrated to be both ‘risk’ and ‘protective’ factors for future violence; and this will include both static and dynamic factors (see Chapter 7 generally on risk assessment techniques).


Reporting


Te communication of risk information is sensitive. Tere should be a clear relationship between the information you have used and the opinions you give: • Record clearly the exact nature of the risk questions that have been posed


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