Criminogenic Factors and Psychotic Symptoms Predict Arrest Rates Among People With Serious Mental Illnesses

Criminogenic factors and psychotic symptoms are both useful variables in assessing risk for recidivism among people with mental illnesses not under current correctional supervision. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2015, Vol. 39, No. 2, 177-188

Criminogenic Factors, Psychotic Symptoms, and Incident Arrests Among People With Serious Mental Illnesses Under Intensive Outpatient Treatment lhb

Authors

Prins, Seth J., Columbia University
Skeem, Jennifer L., University of California, Berkley
Mauro, Christine, Columbia University
Link, Bruce G., Columbia University

Abstract

Although research robustly indicates that general or “criminogenic” factors predict various measures of recidivism, there is controversy about the extent to which these factors, versus untreated symptoms, lead to justice involvement for people with mental illnesses. Based on a sample of 183 people in intensive outpatient treatment followed for an average period of 34.5 months, the present study tested whether criminogenic factors (i.e., factor-analytically derived proxies of some of the “Central Eight”; Andrews & Bonta, 2010) and psychotic symptoms were independently associated with arrest. The study also compared the predictive utility of these domains. In the fully adjusted model, the antisocial subscale and male sex were associated with increased arrest rates, whereas psychosis and age were associated with decreased arrest rates. Criminogenic factors and psychotic symptoms had comparable predictive utility. We conclude that criminogenic factors—chiefly arrest history—and psychotic symptoms predict arrest rates. Both sets of variables appear useful for assessing risk of arrest among people with mental illnesses who are not under current correctional supervision.

Keywords: crime, mental illness, risk assessment, arrest, psychosis

Summary of the Research

Extensive research has proposed that criminogenic risk factors (i.e., major changeable risk factors for criminal behavior that do not include symptoms of mental illnesses) are strong predictors of recidivism and that these measures are useful targets for intervention to reduce re-arrest rates for individuals who are under correctional supervision. “However, there is debate among researchers and practitioners about the extent to which the involvement of people with mental illness in the justice system is maintained by criminogenic risk factors, which are shared among all justice-involved people, or by untreated symptoms, which are specific to people with mental illness (p. 177).”

Research findings are mixed with regard to higher arrest rates among people with mental illness. “Until recently, correctional policy for individuals with mental illnesses was premised on the belief that symptoms caused arrest: a lack of (or inadequate) treatment brought deviant, symptomatic behavior to the attention of law enforcement (p. 177).” The primary goal was to connect individuals with mental illness to treatment under the supervision of the courts or community correction agencies. However, research findings are also mixed with regard to a reduction in recidivism based on treatment-centered programs. There has been no evidence that supports the belief that a reduction of mental health symptoms is the reason why individuals who succeed in these programs do not recidivate.

“Relatively little research has been conducted among a subgroup of individuals for whom untreated symptoms may more directly cause justice system involvement, including defendants who have been acquitted of a crime as not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). Still, criminogenic variables seem to predict revocation in this subgroup, as well (p. 178).” A history of substance abuse, prior arrest(s) or revocation, and non-adherence to treatment have all been identified as variables associated with the revocation among NGRI acquitees. “There is growing evidence that roughly 8% of justice-involved people with mental illnesses have an arrest or pattern of arrests that are directly attributable to symptoms of psychosis (p. 178).”

Utilizing a sample of 183 individuals with serious mental illness this study sought to examine if certain criminogenic factors and psychotic symptoms are independently associated with arrest. “From the perspective of policy and programming, at issue is whether risk assessment and targeted risk reduction as a general model is applicable in criminal justice and mental health collaborations or whether it requires theoretical or methodological adaptation (p. 178).”

Findings highlighted criminogenic factors and psychotic symptoms are both associated with rate of arrest. Specifically, criminogenic factors were associated with an increased rate of arrest and psychotic symptoms with a decreased rate of arrest. Arrest history was the most predominant criminogenic factor associated with an increased rate of arrest.

“There are at least two competing perspectives on the causes of criminal behavior or arrest among individuals with mental illnesses. The first posits that untreated psychiatric symptoms cause arrest directly by drawing the attention of law enforcement officials or indirectly by resulting in circumstances that subsequently result in criminal behavior or arrest. We found that psychotic symptoms and arrest had the opposite association in our sample. The second perspective posits that criminal history and a subset of variable risk factors—changeable behaviors, attitudes, and personality characteristics proximate to crime (i.e., “the immediate situation”)—maintain recidivism. We found that such factors were associated with arrest, but arrest history, a static risk factor, was more operative than proximate changeable factors (p. 182).”

Translating Research into Practice

“Assessing individual differences in these risk factors is a centerpiece of evidence-based practice for corrections agencies. The goal is to identify relatively high-risk individuals, prioritize them for intensive intervention services that target these criminogenic factors, and thereby meaningfully reduce recidivism. Research suggests that four risk factors consistently predict criminal conduct in almost any justice-involved sample: history of antisocial behavior, antisocial personality pattern, antisocial cognition, and antisocial associates (p. 178).” Examining these previously identified risk factors when working with individuals with mental illnesses who are connected with the criminal justice system may be valuable. Benefits from treatment may increase if clinicians are able to identify these risk factors and additionally assist individuals with developing realistic goals to change their antisocial habits.

“From an actuarial perspective, the independent predictive utility of criminogenic risk factors appears contingent on whether the goal is primarily prediction or intervention; that is, if the goal is merely to predict arrest, fixed markers like arrest history may be sufficient, but if the goal is to reduce risk, identifying changeable risk factors to target in treatment is essential. That said, used in conjunction with symptom and demographic information, criminal risk factors will improve prediction of arrest for individuals with serious mental illnesses not under current correctional supervision (p. 183).” (emphasis added)

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Authored By: Amanda Beltrani

DarkBlue-Forensic-Training-Academy

BeltraniAmanda

Amanda M. Beltrani is a first-year graduate student in the Forensic Psychology masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments and criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.

Keynote Address at the American Psychology-Law Society meeting presented by Dr. Itiel Dror (video)

Dr. Itiel Dror presents the Keynote Address at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) in San Diego, March 2015. Dr. Dror’s keynote address speaks about the “Psychology and Impartiality of Forensic Expert Decision Making: When Justice is Not Blind.” For more information about Dr. Dror’s work, please visit: www.cci-hq.com.

About Dr. Dror

Dr. Dror’s academic work relates to theoretical issues underlying human performance and cognition. His research examines the information processing involved in perception, judgment and decision-making. Dr. Itiel Dror has published dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles and serves as Associate Editor and on the Editorial Boards of several scientific journals.

Dr. Itiel Dror’s specialty is in taking the most theoretical scientific understanding of the human mind, brain and cognition, and translating it into practical and tangible ways to improve human performance in real world domains. This applied research has primarily focused on enhanced cognition through training, decision-making, and use of technology. For example, Dr Dror has advised how to use technology (e.g., interactive videos, web design, gaming) to make training more effective, helped organizations understand the cognitive aptitudes and skills needed for specific task performance (and designed tools useful to predict job performance and for selection & screening), developed ways to minimize expert examiners’ vulnerability to confirmation and other cognitive biases, and conducted research and training on how to best utilize technology in the workplace.

The applied research has taken place in a variety of countries and has included governmental bodies (such as the UK Passport and Identity Services, Department of Health; the US Air Force; and Police Forces in the UK, the US, the Netherlands and Australia) and commercial companies (such as Orange, Deutsche Bank, PWC, and IBM), as well as providing expert reports and testimonies in court cases (such as in the Levi Bellfield case in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey in London).

American Psychology-Law Society Keynote Address

Juror Ratings of Risk Appear Dependent Upon Communication Format in Static-99R Reports

Forensic-Training-AcademyProspective jurors draw different conclusions about reported Static-99R scores depending on whether risk is communicated in terms of category, relative risk, or normative samples. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2014, Vol. 38, No. 5, 418-427 

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Same Score, Different Message: Perceptions of Offender Risk Depend on Static-99R Risk Communication Format 

 

Author

Jorge G. Varela, Marcus T. Boccaccini, Sam Houston State University
Veronica A. Cuervo, Sam Houston State University
Daniel C. Murrie, University of Virgina
John W. Clark, University of Texas at Tyler

Abstract

The popular Static-99R allows evaluators to convey results in terms of risk category (e.g., low, moderate, high), relative risk (compared with other sexual offenders), or normative sample recidivism rate formats (e.g., 30% reoffended in 5 years). But we do not know whether judges and jurors draw similar conclusions about the same Static-99R score when findings are communicated using different formats. Community members reporting for jury duty (N 211) read a tutorial on the Static-99R and a description of a sexual offender and his crimes. We varied his Static-99R score (1 or 6) and risk communication format (categorical, relative risk, or recidivism rate). Participants rated the high-scoring offender as higher risk than the low-scoring offender in the categorical communication condition, but not in the relative risk or recidivism rate conditions. Moreover, risk ratings of the high-scoring offender were notably higher in the categorical communication condition than the relative risk and recidivism rate conditions. Participants who read about a low Static-99R score tended to report that Static-99R results were unimportant and difficult to understand, especially when risk was communicated using categorical or relative risk formats. Overall, results suggest that laypersons are more receptive to risk results indicating high risk than low risk and more receptive to risk communication messages that provide an interpretative label (e.g., high risk) than those that provide statistical results.

Keywords: Static-99R, communication, risk assessment, sexual offender

Summary of the Research

Risk and recidivism of sexual offenders has become a captivating topic in psychology and law, prompting an increase in research surrounding risk assessment. However, discrepancies between actual sexual recidivism and public perception of risk necessitate research regarding the effectiveness of expert communication of risk to juries. Varela, Boccaccini, Cuervo, Murrie, and Clark examined juror interpretation of varying Static-99R score communication formats to investigate whether these factors impact layperson perception of sexual offender risk.

The Static-99R is a risk assessment tool utilized frequently by forensic evaluators to report on the level of risk of an individual brought to the criminal justice system. This instrument “allows evaluators to convey results in terms of risk category (e.g., low, moderate, high), relative risk (compared with other sexual offenders), or normative sample recidivism rate formats (e.g., 30% reoffended in 5 years).” However, little is know about whether judge and juror interpretation of Static-99R scores is dependent upon communication format.

Based on previous research findings that judges and jurors may be confused by statistical explanations of risk and seem to devalue expert opinions that indicate low risk of violence, the current study “compared the influence of three Static-99R risk communication formats—categorical, risk estimate, and relative risk—on venirepersons’ perceptions of sexual offenders” (p. 420). A final sample of 211 prospective jurors read one of six case descriptions, which “varied across two dimensions—the offender’s Static-99R score (i.e., risk level) and risk communication format. The low-scoring offender was assigned a Static-99R score of 1 and the high-scoring offender was assigned a Static-99R score of 6” (p. 420).

“After reading the case description and Static-99R results, participants were asked to make three ratings related to the hypothetical offender—likelihood of committing a new sexual offense in the next 5 years, dangerousness to community members, and support for the use of the “most strict and expensive supervision strategies.” They rated each of these items on a scale ranging from 1 (not likely at all/not at all dangerous) to 6 (very likely/very dangerous). Based on previous research examining jurors’ perceptions of offender risk (e.g., Boccaccini, Murrie, Clark, & Cornell, 2008), we expected that ratings on these items would be moderately to highly correlated and that we would combine them to form a single risk composite variable. In other words, those who view the offender as likely to reoffend should also view him as dangerous to the community and in need of the most strict supervision strategies” (p. 420).

The authors found that ratings on the three items were, in fact, moderately to strongly correlated. However, “Participants rated the low-scoring offender as lower risk than the high-scoring offender in some but not all of the communication format conditions. When risk communication was in the form of a categorical message, participants assigned lower risk ratings to the low-scoring offender than the high-scoring offender. When the risk communication was in the form of a relative risk message, participants assigned only somewhat lower risk ratings to the low-scoring offender. Finally, when presented a recidivism rate message, participants assigned nearly identical risk ratings to the low- and high-scoring offenders. Overall, these findings indicate that participants viewed the high- and low-scoring offenders as having significantly different levels of risk when Static-99R results were communicated using a categorical format, but not when results were communicated using relative risk or recidivism rate formats” (p. 421).

Taken together, the results indicate that varying risk communication formats of the Static-99R may result in different conclusions drawn by legal decision-makers.

Translating Research into Practice

The finding that prospective jurors rated the high-scoring hypothetical offender as more dangerous and more likely to reoffend when risk was communicated categorically as opposed to numerically should raise awareness to forensic evaluators about effective communication formats. The finding that the prospective jurors in this study rated the low-scoring hypothetical offender as “similarly likely to reoffend” as the high-scoring offender when the risk information was presented numerically has serious implications. The authors suggest that this may be the result of layperson overestimation of risk or layperson misunderstanding and misapplication of numerical data. Regardless, practitioners who perform Static-99R evaluations and testify in court proceedings should consider this research and take caution in the communication format they choose to utilize. It appears that jurors may be more receptive to categorical communication formats as opposed to formats that involve normative groups or statistical explanations.

Additionally, since “findings also suggest that venirepersons either neglect risk ratios or do not understand them, especially when the risk ratio suggests low risk,” clinicians in this field should take care in communicating low-risk findings to ensure optimal juror understanding (p. 425). Though evaluators may not necessarily be able to reverse layperson overestimation of risk, attempts to clarify may assist in legal decision-making. “Researchers and clinicians in forensic psychology are understandably focused on developing and properly using instruments, including actuarial instruments. But until the field can communicate to decision makers the results of these measures—in understandable and constructive ways—the practical value of rigorous assessment methods will be greatly constrained” (p. 425).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Confirmation bias may help explain the varied pattern of participants’ responses to risk communication messages. Confirmation bias is the tendency to selectively seek and interpret information in a manner consistent with one’s beliefs and expectations. In our study, nearly all participants, across all experimental conditions, reported that the offender would likely reoffend within the next 5 years. It is reasonable to assume that many participants in our study assumed that most sexual offenders reoffend, as have participants in other research. Therefore, a risk communication indicating that a sexual offender was at low risk for reoffending would have been incongruent with participants’ expectations about sexual offenders and easy to dismiss as unpersuasive or difficult to understand. These findings add to the small but growing body of research suggesting that judges and jurors may simply discount or devalue low-risk messages, perhaps because low-risk messages are incongruent with their expectations that those who have offended in the past will offend again” (p. 424).

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Authored By: Marissa Zappala

DarkBlue-Forensic-Training-AcademyZappalaMarissa - PictureMarissa is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice located in New York City. She completed her undergraduate work at Penn State University, where she obtained a B.A. Psychology and B.A. Criminology. Her aspirations involve the pursuit of a Clinical Forensic PhD program, and an eventual career in Forensic Psychological Evaluation. To contact Marissa, please e-mail marissa.zappala@gmail.com.

Dr. Patricia Zapf presents her Presidential Address at the American Psychology-Law Society meeting (video)

Dr. Patricia Zapf, President of the American Psychology-Law Society, presents her address at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society in San Diego (March, 2015). In her address, Dr. Zapf speaks about the importance of dissemination of our work to expand our field and to reach a wider audience.

About Dr. Zapf

Dr. Patricia A. Zapf obtained her PhD in Clinical Forensic psychology from Simon Fraser University in Canada and currently holds the position of Professor in the Department of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. She is the Editor of the American Psychology-Law Society book series; Associate Editor of Law and Human Behavior; and is on the Editorial Boards of 5 journals in psychology and law. Dr. Zapf is on the Board of Directors for the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services and currently serves as President for the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS; Division 41, APA). She has published 8 books and manuals and over 85 articles and chapters, mainly on the assessment and conceptualization of criminal competencies. Dr. Zapf was appointed Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Distinguished Member of the American Psychology-Law Society in 2006 for outstanding contributions to the field of law and psychology for her work in competency evaluation. In addition to her research, she serves as consultant to various criminal justice and policy organizations and has a private practice in forensic assessment. She has conducted over 2500 forensic evaluations in both the United States and Canada and has served as an expert witness in a number of cases, including the competency hearing of Jose Padilla. Dr. Zapf is the author of Best Practices in Forensic Mental Health Assessment: Evaluation of Competency to Stand Trial; editor of Forensic Assessments in Criminal and Civil Law: A Handbook for Lawyers; and Editor-in-Chief of the APA Handbook of Forensic Psychology. She served on National Judicial College’s Mental Competency—Best Practices Model panel of experts and travels throughout the United States and Internationally to train legal and mental health professionals on best practices in forensic evaluation.

American Psychology-Law Society Presidential Address

Abuse History Used as an Aggravating Factor in Support for Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

DarkBlue-Forensic-Training-AcademyPerceptions of abuse history mitigate support for juvenile sex offender registration in the abstract, yet are viewed as aggravating factors when considering both severe and less severe specific cases. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2015, Vol. 21, No. 1, 35-49.

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The Influence of a Juvenile’s Abuse History on Support for Sex Offender Registration

Authors:

Margaret C. Stevenson, The University of Evansville
Cynthia J. Najdowski, University at Albany, State University of New York
Jessica M. Salerno, Arizona State University
Tisha R. A. Wiley, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rockville, Maryland
Bette L. Bottoms, The University of Illinois at Chicago
Katlyn S. Farnum, The University of Nebraska

Abstract

We investigated whether and how a juvenile’s history of experiencing sexual abuse affects public perceptions of juvenile sex offenders in a series of 5 studies. When asked about juvenile sex offenders in an abstract manner (Studies 1 and 2), the more participants (community members and undergraduates) believed that a history of being sexually abused as a child causes later sexually abusive behavior, the less likely they were to support sex offender registration for juveniles. Yet when participants considered specific sexual offenses, a juvenile’s history of sexual abuse was not considered to be a mitigating factor. This was true when participants considered a severe sexual offense (forced rape; Study 3 and Study 4) and a case involving less severe sexual offenses (i.e., statutory rape), when a juvenile’s history of sexual abuse backfired and was used as an aggravating factor, increasing support for registering the offender (Study 3 and Study 5). Theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.

Keywords: Child sexual abuse, juvenile sex offending, legal decision making, attributions, public policy

Summary of the Research

The authors conducted 5 studies investigating public perception of juvenile sex offenders’ history of sexual abuse. Studies 1 and 2 examined “people’s estimates of the prevalence of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders, and whether they believe such abuse explains why juveniles commit sex offenses. This study also tested whether such beliefs would relate to decreased or increased support for applying registry laws to juvenile sex offenders” (p. 37). “In Study 3, [they] tested the extent to which beliefs that sexual abuse leads to sex offending influence registration support for juvenile sex offenders in specific cases (i.e., forced rape, statutory rape, harassment, and sexting)” (p. 40). “To conclude this with more certainty about causality, [they] conducted a direct experimental test to understand how a juvenile’s history of sexual abuse influences registration support in a forced rape case (Study 4) and separately in a statutory rape case (Study 5)” (p. 43).

“As expected, when asked about juvenile sex offenders generally, participants greatly overestimated the prevalence of a history of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders— both when asked to report their spontaneous thoughts about why juveniles commit sex offenses and when asked directly about sexual abuse. Further, the more participants attributed sex offending to past abuse, the less they supported policies that juveniles to register as sex offenders” (p. 45)

“Study 3 showed that public support for sex offender registration varies depending on whether individuals are asked about juveniles in general or about specific juveniles accused of different crimes ranging in severity. The more participants thought that a juvenile’s history of being sexually abused led him to perpetrate forced rape, the less supported registering the juvenile as a sex offender. These results support the idea that laypeople naturally think about heinous crimes when they are asked about sex offenders in general. In contrast, the more participants thought that a history of sexual abuse led juveniles to perpetrate less severe offenses (i.e., statutory rape, harassment, and sexting), the more they supported registering the juvenile as a sex offender. Although some studies have that child sexual abuse mitigates reactions toward juveniles accused of nonsexual offenses, our results suggest that people sometimes use beliefs about a history of sexual abuse as an aggravating factor when determining whether juveniles should register as sex offenders for committing less severe sex offenses” (p. 43).

“When a history of sexual abuse was experimentally manipulated, abuse history was consistently used as an aggravating factor in a less severe statutory rape case, and was ignored entirely in a severe forced rape case.

In conclusion, “abuse history mitigates support for juvenile sex offender registration. Yet, for nonprototypical, serious sex crimes, a different trend emerges, in large part due to the malleability of the perceived seriousness of the sexual offense—malleability that does not exist for extremely serious types of sexual offenses. Specifically, less severe sex crimes (i.e., statutory rape) are more likely to be perceived as true crimes when the juvenile has a history of sexual abuse and, in turn, participants use a juvenile’s sexual abuse history as evidence that he is permanently damaged, a danger to society, and deserving of registration.” (p. 46).

Translating Research into Practice

“Most people inaccurately assume juvenile sex offenders have been abused. Moreover, normative and consensual adolescent sexual activity is particularly criminalized when people assume that the adolescent is engaging in sexual activity because of his own history of abuse. Such findings have implications with respect to the fairness of registration policies, particularly because most juvenile sex offenders have not been sexually abused” (p. 46)

“To the extent that judges are allowed judicial discretion in applying registration policies to adolescents, the present research suggests that juvenile registration is likely to be applied capriciously and affect certain groups more than others” (p. 46)

“This research also has implications for sentencing. Sexual abuse history, presumed by the law to be a mitigating factor is at best frequently discounted, especially in severe cases, and at worst, even backfires in lenient cases, being used against juvenile sex offenders as an aggravating factor, as are other factors such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and child physical abuse. This finding is likely to be of interest to trial attorneys who must attempt to anticipate the factors that jurors will consider aggravating versus mitigating” (p. 46)

“Courts and policymakers should be encouraged to implement legal instructions and policies designed to encourage legal decision makers explicitly to be sensitive to a juvenile offender’s history of abuse, to educate them about the actual consequences of being abused, and to admonish them against using a history of abuse against a juvenile offender. It may be prudent for legal decision makers to provide rehabilitative resources and mental health services to juvenile sex offenders who commit these less severe offenses, particularly those with histories of child sexual abuse, instead of resorting to potentially harmful sex offender registration” (p. 46)

“Given that participants greatly overestimate the prevalence of a history of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders, and that this belief can lead to more severe treatment of juvenile sex offenders, another policy implication is to educate legal decision makers about actual prevalence rates of abuse histories among juvenile sex offenders. Policy-focused educators should take precautions when teaching this information and be careful to correct such mistakes in logic—mistakes that have the potential to result in discriminatory treatment of sexually abused juveniles” (p. 46)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Participants were more supportive of registering an abused versus a non-abused juvenile who committed statutory rape, even though they believed the abused juvenile was less able to control his behavior—an attribution that both the present and past research shows predicts leniency in case judgments. The present research demonstrates an interesting instance in which fear of recidivism (i.e., utilitarian goals of punishment) overrides the leniency that would otherwise be produced by uncontrollable attributions, and instead results in severe case judgments.” (p. 45)

“Abuse history predicted support for the full application of the registry, but not registration support. It is possible that the registration support variable triggers retributive goals of punishment because its wording refers to the severity of registration (i.e., “Public registration laws are too severe for juvenile sex offenders like David”). In contrast, the question assessing support for the full application of the registry does not require participants to consider the punitive severity of registration. Instead, participants are merely asked to recommend one of various registration options (i.e., no registration; registration, but without the juvenile’s information posted online; etc.) without making a value judgment about those options” (p. 45)

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored By Megan Banford

Forensic-Training-AcademyBanfordMegan-picMegan is a graduate student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2013 from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. (Honors) and hopes to attain her PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

 

Final call for Early Registration for Summer Training Institute!

Today is the LAST day for early registration for Summer Training Institute at John Jay College!  Secure your spot with internationally recognized experts, prolific authors, and engaging presenters. Below are highlights of the two workshops offered by Dr. Randy Otto on Expert Testimony and Report Writing. For more information on all the workshops being offered and social events during the week visit our page, Summer Training Institute.  We hope to see you there!

 

1-Day Report Writing for Forensic Evaluations

Instructor: Dr. Randy Otto

June 5th

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1-Day Effective Expert Testimony for Forensic Evaluation

Instructor: Dr. Randy Otto

June 3rd

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Distinguished Contributions Award Winner Dr. Frederick on Multiple Measures of Malingering (Video)

Dr. Richard Frederick, winner of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguished Contributions Award, presented his address at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society in San Diego (March, 2015). Dr. Frederick’s award address is entitled, “Too Much Information: Problems when using Multiple Malingering Tests.” In this address, Dr. Frederick discusses the issues involved in using multiple measures of malingering. The Excel spreadsheet to which he refers in his address (a very helpful resource!) can be downloaded here. In addition, a copy of his slides can be downloaded here.

About Dr. Frederick

Richard Frederick, Ph.D., is a forensic psychologist in Springfield, Missouri, where he is in private practice. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1986. He completed his internship at Naval Hospital Bethesda, Maryland. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in forensic psychology at the Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown, Connecticut. He retired from the U.S. Navy as a Captain in 2008, with four tours of duty in support of Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He retired from the Department of Justice, U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, in 2012. Dr. Frederick is board certified in forensic psychology (American Board of Professional Psychology). He is past president of and National Chair of Examinations for the American Board of Forensic Psychology (2006-2011). Since 2008, he is co-chair of continuing education for the American Academy of Forensic Psychology. He serves on APA’s Committee for Psychological Testing and Assessment (2011-2013). Dr. Frederick is author of the Validity Indicator Profile, a forensic assessment instrument in worldwide distribution.

More information about Dr. Frederick’s work can be found on his website.

http://richardfrederick.com/

AAFP Distinguished Contributions Award Address

The supplement materials are available here.

The presentation slides are available here.

Common in Practice, Neglected in Research: The Impact of Dual CST and MSO Evaluations

DarkBlue-Forensic-Training-AcademyWith joint evaluations of CST and MSO, defendants are more likely to be deemed insane and less likely to be deemed incompetent. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

 

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2015, Vol. 21, No. 1, 50-59

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The Significance of Combining Evaluations of Competency to Stand Trial and Sanity at the Time of the Offense

 Authors:

Preeti Chauhan, John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Janet Warren, University of Virginia
Lauren Kois, John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
James Wellbeloved-Stone, University of Virginia

Abstract

Joint evaluations of competency to stand trial (CST) and mental state at the time of the offense (MSO) are common practice and implicitly assumed to be unrelated to evaluators’ psycholegal opinions. To investigate this assumption, the authors used a sample of 5,731 forensic evaluations conducted over a 17-year span to determine (a) the prevalence of joint versus CST-only and MSO-only evaluations; (b) their association with evaluators’ opinions regarding defendants’ competency and/or sanity; and (c) whether referral source, defendant-specific and evaluation characteristics, and psycholegal criteria interact with joint versus referral-specific evaluations in determining evaluators’ opinions. Results indicate that a joint evaluation structure occurred in 54% of the evaluations. Opinions of incompetency were significantly more likely in CST-only relative to joint evaluations. Conversely, opinions of insanity were significantly more likely in joint relative to MSO-only evaluations. Within the joint evaluations, competent and sane was the most frequent opinion. In CST-only evaluations, opinions of incompetency were associated with defendants’ medication noncompliance at the time of the offense, being charged with a nonviolent offense, and the evaluator receiving defendants’ criminal records. These variables were not associated with an incompetency opinion in joint evaluations. In joint evaluations, the absence of prior conviction was related to an opinion of incompetency; this was not the case for CST-only evaluations. The predictors of insanity did not interact with evaluation structure. These findings suggest that the evaluation structure is more important than commonly assumed for forensic practice and may help to inform the clinical practices of evaluators

Keywords: forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, mental state at the time of the offense, insanity, joint evaluations.

Summary of the Research

According to previous research, about one-third of competency to stand trial (CST) and mental state at the time of the offense (MSO) are conducted simultaneously. This article “explores the issue of joint versus referral-specific evaluations to more fully understand if this common practice is irrelevant, as assumed, or if it hides differences in opinion formation that could be of significance to the defendant and the decision making of the courts.” The researchers assumed they would find no differences in opinions of joint or referral-specific evaluations.

“Using 5,731 forensic evaluations conducted from 1990 to 2007, [the authors] examined the frequency of joint evaluations, their relationship to psycholegal opinions, and whether an interaction occurred between predictor variables and opinions of competency and sanity in joint versus referral-specific evaluations. First, [they] examined how often joint versus CST-only or MSO-only evaluations occur and whether the evaluation structure is related to an opinion of competency and sanity. Next, [they] assessed the amount of overlap between competency and sanity opinions in joint evaluations. Last, [they] investigated whether referral source, defendant-specific and evaluation characteristics, and types of psycholegal impairment influenced opinions of incompetency or insanity by evaluation structure (i.e., joint or referral-specific evaluations).” The researchers found a dual use of CST and MSO occurred in 54% of evaluations.

For a majority of evaluations, “the evaluator received the warrant (84.9%), official offense information (76.7%), reason for the evaluation (87.4%), psychological and medical records (62.7%), and the defendant’s statement (66.1%). However, only a small percentage received witnesses’ statements (36.3%), and about half received the defendant’s criminal record (46.5%). Only a small percentage of evaluations involved psychological testing (16.4%). In terms of time spent, the average evaluation was 7.77 hr with 2.47 hr spent on the interview, 1.77 hr spent on information gathering, and 3.49 hr on report writing.”

Overall, the researchers’ expectation that no differences would be found between CST-only and joint assessment was unfounded. “Defendants [were] less likely to be found incompetent in the context of a joint evaluation as compared with a CST-only assessment and more likely to be found insane in the context of a joint evaluation as contrasted to a MSO-only evaluation.” The majority of the defendants (87.8%) in the sample that had dual evaluations were deemed both competent to stand trial and sane. In joint evaluations, individuals were less likely to be deemed competent if they did not have a prior criminal conviction. Offense type, medication compliance, and receiving criminal records were not significant factors in regards to competency opinions in joint evaluations.

Translating Research into Practice

The authors highlight ethical concerns surrounding consent when the individual is deemed incompetent, indicating that consent for the sanity evaluation might too easily be swept under the umbrella of court-sanctioned evaluation to stand trial. CST opinions are more likely than MSO to be in line with the court’s final decision regarding an individual. Depending on the laws and practices in an evaluators jurisdiction, evaluators should still make efforts to ensure consent is given in legal and ethical terms. For some situations, “evaluators should not proceed with an evaluation of MSO if the defendant is incompetent, but these data suggest that they often do. Indeed, in about 87% of the cases, evaluators offered an opinion of MSO even though the defendant was incompetent.” It is important, however, to tease apart the issue of (in)competence to stand trial and (in)competence to consent to the evaluation process so care should be taken to make this distinction in those cases where the evaluator holds the opinion that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial.

In joint evaluations where the evaluator deemed the individual incompetent, “evaluators spent less time writing the report and on the overall evaluation. In contrast, in the CST-only evaluations, defendants were more often opined incompetent if they were charged with a nonviolent offense, were non-compliant with their medication at the time of the offense, and if the evaluator did not have access to criminal records. These relationships were not present for joint evaluations. Taken broadly, these differences underscore the importance of the evaluation structure in competency opinions. Notably, these differences across evaluation contexts did not include the primary clinical variables, suggesting that criminogenic and process variables are central to these differences in evaluation structure. Further, the CST-only evaluations seem to primarily capture the chronically mentally ill defendants who have been prescribed medication but are non-compliant in taking it and who are charged with minor and nonviolent offenses.” This statement should underscore for evaluators the importance of retaining objectivity and attention to detail. It also articulates the challenge and necessity for evaluators to gather complete information for the individuals they evaluate.

“Within [this] data set, joint evaluations were less likely to lead to an opinion supportive of incompetency but more likely to lead to an opinion supportive of insanity. These findings should alert researchers to the significance of this structural component of forensic evaluation, which could mask important differences in competency or sanity evaluation outcomes.”

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

The authors suggested that the intentions of attorneys play a role in the evaluation outcome. “Attorneys who refer defendants for joint, relative to CST-only, evaluations may be primarily looking for mitigating factors to assist in plea bargaining. Conversely, attorneys who referred defendants for CST-only evaluations may be expressing true concerns about the defendant’s capacity to proceed to trial.”

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Special Contributor

Contributions to this post were made by Andrea Patrick.PatrickAndrea

Andrea Patrick is a first year masters student studying Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the future, she hopes to be directly working with forensic populations providing risk assessments and clinical evaluations.

 

Summer Training Institute offers in person workshops with Dr. Randy Salekin

Early Registration for Summer Training Institute is approaching fast. Secure your spot for in-person workshops with internationally recognized experts, prolific authors, and engaging presenters. Here are highlights of the two workshops presented by Dr. Randy Salekin. For more information on available workshops and social events during the week visit, Summer Training Institute. We hope to see you there!

 

2-Day Juvenile Offender Issues and the Assessment of Juvenile Waiver to Adult Court

Instructor: Dr. Randy Salekin

June 1st -2nd

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program91-Day Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, & Callous Traits | DSM-5

Instructor: Dr. Randy Salekin

June 2nd

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Examining the Complex Relationships Among Mental Illness, Criminal Risk, Recidivism and Parole Release Status

Serious mental illness exhibits a significant indirect effect with recidivism when considering its relationship with actuarially assessed risk. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2015, Vol. 39, No. 1, 75-86

lhb

Serious Mental Illness, Criminal Risk, Parole Supervision, and Recidivism:Testing of Conditional Effects 

Authors:

Jason Matejkowski, University of Kansas
Michael Ostermann, Rutgers University

Abstract

Adults with serious mental illness (SMI) who are released from prison tend to recidivate more quickly and at higher rates than similarly situated adults who do not have SMI. The current study examined whether this relationship with recidivism is mediated by criminal risk level and whether parole supervision can ameliorate the effects of SMI on recidivism. Findings indicate that SMI did exhibit a significant indirect effect with recidivism when considering its relationship with actuarially assessed risk. However, this indirect effect was not conditioned by whether the individual was released to parole; specifically release status did not moderate the relationship between risk and recidivism. The direct effects of SMI on recidivism were found to be conditioned upon release status. Specifically, we found no relationship between SMI and recidivism for parolees and a negative relationship between SMI and recidivism among nonparolees. Findings indicate a need for paroling authorities to find more effective ways of reducing criminal risk, which can decrease subsequent recidivism, among the individuals they supervise.

Keywords: serious mental illness, parole supervision, criminal risk, conditional process analysis

Summary of the Research

The term serious mental illness (SMI) indicates the presence of a psychiatric disorder that results in a high level of interference with social and occupational functioning” (p. 75). The criminal justice system is overrepresented with individuals who have SMI and the rates of individuals with SMI are higher in correctional settings than outside of these facilities, and the reason for this is not fully understood. Individuals are motivated to develop methods to reduce recidivism and promote diversion from the criminal justice system for people with SMI. This study examines the relationship between SMI and criminal risk and recidivism by reviewing parole release decisions and recidivism data for criminal justice involvement within two years of an offender’s release date. Additionally, the authors assess if parole supervision can improve the relationship between SMI and recidivism.

Mental Health and Recidivism

“Former inmates who have mental health problems have not fared well in the community after release from incarceration when compared with otherwise similar released offenders who do not have a mental health problem” (p. 75). Previous research has indicated that offenders with SMI have a large amount of static and dynamic risk factors, which play a critical role in criminal involvement and at higher rates compared to the general public. Additionally, research has indicated that the presence of SMI is related with increased antisocial attitudes and together these factors put offenders with mental illness at an increased risk for recidivism.

Parole and Recidivism

“It is suggested that parole supervision can moderate this indirect effect by mitigating the relationship between risk and recidivism, or it may influence the relationship between SMI and recidivism via an alternative manner (e.g., intermediate sanctions or increased supervision). As such, the study addressed the following questions: Is serious mental illness indirectly related to recidivism via relationships with criminal risk? Is this indirect relationship conditioned by whether or not the offender is released to parole supervision or does parole supervision influence the relationship between SMI and recidivism in some other way?” (p. 77)

Findings of this study indicated, “that SMI did exhibit a significant relationship with recidivism when considering their relationships with actuarially assessed risk. Those with SMI had significantly higher risk levels than those without SMI, and increased risk level was significantly associated with a re-arrest or technical parole violation within 2 years of being released from prison. Results indicate that this indirect effect of SMI on recidivism (through risk level) was not conditioned by whether the individual was released to parole; specifically release status did not moderate the relationship between risk and recidivism. However, when exploring the direct effects of SMI on recidivism at 2 years we found this relationship to be conditioned upon release status. Specifically, independent of the relationship SMI had on recidivism through increased risk level, we found no relationship between SMI and recidivism for parolees and a negative relationship between SMI and recidivism among nonparolees. That is, among nonparolees, SMI was associated with reduced likelihood of recidivism” (p. 82)

Translating Research into Practice

Parole supervision did not improve the relationship between risk and recidivism demonstrating that community corrections may not be utilizing the opportunity to reduce criminal involvement with the individuals that they supervise. Parole officers are encouraged to incorporate programs targeting behaviors that reduce criminal involvement in parole conditions.   “As reduction in dynamic criminal risk factors is associated with reduced criminal behaviors, efforts to train officers in the importance of addressing criminogenic needs among those they supervise, identification of available services that target criminal risk reduction and evaluations of the efficacy of these programs to reduce criminal risk among those they supervise can improve parole’s response to the high levels of criminogenic need among the populations they supervise” (p. 84).

“Training to improve responses to the special needs of offenders with mental illness is essential to reduce their returns to incarceration. With the increasing presence of those with mental health problems within corrections and community corrections populations, it is imperative that parole agencies improve how their officers interact with, notice the ailments and triggering behaviors of, and connect those on their caseloads that have mental health problems to appropriate treatment regimens” (p. 84).

Mental illness alone is not a good predictor of criminal behavior. “This highlights the need for researchers, when examining the relationship between mental illness and criminal recidivism, to consider the potential contribution of risk factors to the total effect of SMI on recidivism and to interpret results accordingly. Failure to do so could lead to the overinflating of estimates of the relationship between SMI and criminal behavior” (p.83).

Special trainings for parole officers to work with mental health professionals may assist these officers in understanding this population. Paroling authorities may be more inclined to respond to individuals with SMI punitively as they do not understand all of the complex needs of this population. If provided adequate training, paroling authorities may attribute problematic behavior to an individual’s mental illness oppose to willful noncompliance, which may lead them to respond to criminal conduct with alternatives to arrest.

Crafting mental health clinics specific for individuals on parole may assist with addressing and lowering recidivism among individuals with SMI. Requirements of parole may be to participate in programs to reduce criminal behaviors as well as to understand the impact their mental illness plays in committing deviant acts. These programs may also address issues such as substance abuse, medication compliance, provide them with crisis intervention information and assist with finding employment. Intensive supervision may mitigate the relationship between recidivism and criminal behavior.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Future research that identifies specific risk factors that mediate the relationship between SMI and recidivism could inform targeted interventions for reducing recidivism among this population” (p. 83)

“The current study did not contain data on conditions of parole supervision and services involved in among parolees it is unclear whether these criminogenic needs are being overlooked by parole officers, whether programming is available to parolees, or whether the available programs are ineffective at reducing criminal risk” (p. 84).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Special Contributor

Contributions to this post were made by Amanda Beltrani.

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BeltraniAmanda

Amanda M. Beltrani is a first-year graduate student in the Forensic Psychology masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments and criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.