Training Influences Technique When it Comes to Police Interrogation

Forensic Training AcademyNot only is police interrogation technique related to the type of training received, but officers appear to use the same techniques for both juveniles and adults during interrogations. 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.

Police Training in Interviewing and Interrogation Methods: A Comparison of Techniques Used with Adult and Juvenile Suspects | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 3, 270-284Law and Human Behavior

Police Training in Interviewing and Interrogation Methods: A Comparison of Techniques Used with Adult and Juvenile Suspects

Authors

Hayley M. D. Cleary, Virginia Commonwealth University
Todd C. Warner, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Abstract

Despite empirical progress in documenting and classifying various interrogation techniques, very little is known about how police are trained in interrogation methods, how frequently they use various techniques, and whether they employ techniques differentially with adult versus juvenile suspects. This study reports the nature and extent of formal (e.g., Reid Technique, PEACE, HUMINT) and informal interrogation training as well as self-reported technique usage in a diverse national sample (N = 340) of experienced American police officers. Officers were trained in a variety of different techniques ranging from comparatively benign pre-interrogation strategies (e.g., building rapport, observing body language or speech patterns) to more psychologically coercive techniques (e.g., blaming the victim, discouraging denials). Over half the sample reported being trained to use psychologically coercive techniques with both adults and juveniles. The majority (91%) receive informal, “on the job” interrogation training. Technique usage patterns indicate a spectrum of psychological intensity where information-gathering approaches were used most frequently and high-pressure tactics less frequently. Reid-trained officers (56%) were significantly more likely than officers without Reid training to use pre-interrogation and manipulation techniques. Across all analyses and techniques, usage patterns were identical for adult and juvenile suspects, suggesting that police interrogate youth in the same manner as adults. Overall, results suggest that training in specific interrogation methods is strongly associated with usage. Findings underscore the need for more law enforcement interrogation training in general, especially with juvenile suspects, and highlight the value of training as an avenue for reducing interrogation-induced miscarriages of justice.

Keywords

interrogation, training, techniques, juveniles, police

Summary of the Research

“A notable “training gap” exists in the literature such that social science understands very little about how the law enforcement community prepares investigators—legally and tactically—to elicit information from criminal suspects” (p. 271). “How police are trained to interrogate suspects raises the question of how police actually interrogate suspects in practice. Although very little research has examined police interrogation training, more scholarship has explored the techniques police use during interviewing and interrogation… Researchers have expanded the study of interrogation techniques by identifying dozens of individual interrogation strategies in numerous different contexts” (p. 271).
“The present study addresses significant gaps in the literature pertaining to police officers’ interrogation training as well as their self-reported use of interrogation techniques. To our knowledge, it is the first to report extensively on the training police receive, both formal and informal, in suspect interviewing and interrogation methods. Additionally, it adds to the extremely scant literature directly comparing police usage of techniques with adult versus juvenile suspects. The study aims are threefold: (a) to describe law enforcement officers’ interrogation training experiences using a diverse national sample of experienced interrogators; (b) to examine police use of interrogation techniques commonly discussed in the literature, including a comparison of techniques used with adult versus juvenile suspects; and (c) to examine the relationship between interrogation training and actual interrogation practices. The study addresses these three aims using a targeted sample of highly experienced police investigators” (p. 272).
“Participants were students of the FBI National Academy (NA) in Quantico, Virginia, an intensive federally sponsored training program that serves primarily American state and local law enforcement officers but also international police professionals. The National Academy is a 10-week leadership program that trains four cohorts per year, each including approximately 220 officers from all 50 states and many other nations, and typically including only one officer from any given department” (p.273).
“To summarize, [Principal Component Analysis] models indicated four distinct components of interrogation techniques, conceptualized here as pre-interrogation, manipulation, confrontation, and presentation of evidence. Officers report using all of these techniques—even the types of techniques considered to be more aggressive or manipulative, though those appear less frequently. Additionally, although all technique components were used more frequently with adults than with juveniles, the overall pattern of component loadings was similar across the two models, suggesting that officers use this array of techniques similarly when questioning adults versus juvenile suspects” (p. 276). “With regard to training in specific interrogation techniques, officers were more likely to have received formal training on specific techniques for use with adult suspects rather than juveniles and that similar training patterns emerged across the sample for the questioning of juveniles and adults, suggesting that most trainings are probably geared toward adult interrogations” (p. 280). “With regard to the specific techniques police employ during criminal interrogations, overall police used less coercive tactics more frequently than the tactics generally considered more aggressive or coercive. When examining the individual techniques in order of frequency, the results form something of a gradient where the relatively benign, information-gathering types of strategies are used most frequently, and frequency of use declines as the techniques become more psychologically coercive. Indeed, the four items comprising the pre-interrogation component (building rapport, observing body language, offering things for comfort, and observing speech patterns) were the four techniques officers report using the most often with both adult and juvenile suspects… However, our study is consistent with previous research suggesting that even the more aggressive techniques are still sometimes used; for example, the means for presenting false evidence, using deceit, and moving physically closer to the suspect ranged from 2.42–3.00 (where 3 = sometimes). Moreover, these aggressive techniques are used with similar frequency with juvenile suspects as with adults.” (p. 280).
“One primary research question in the present study was the relationship between interrogation training and practice. Reid training emerged as a significant predictor of the pre-interrogation component and the manipulation component. Regarding the former, it appears that Reid-trained officers are indeed practicing the Behavior Analysis Interview and other preparatory interview strategies that the training teaches… Regarding the manipulation component, Reid-trained officers in our sample more frequently use manipulation tactics (e.g., discouraging denials, suggesting what might have happened, minimizing offense seriousness) than non-Reid trained officers” (p. 281).

Translating Research into Practice

“Our data indicate that police officers in the present sample interrogate juvenile suspects essentially the same way they interrogate adult suspects. They use the same patterns of manipulative, confrontational, or psychologically coercive techniques with comparatively the same frequencies. Scholars have long known that adolescence is a risk factor for false confessions, but whether police employ the same psychologically coercive strategies known to induce false confessions with juvenile suspects remains unclear. Our findings indicate that police utilize them no more or less frequently with juveniles than with adults in comparison to less coercive strategies” (p. 281).
“The overall similarity between police training in individual interrogation techniques and utilization of those techniques indicates that training is strongly associated with practice. On the one hand, this finding is discouraging for scholars and advocates who worry that Reid or Reid-like techniques are being taught to American law enforcement officers with increasing regularity—that the model of psychologically coercive interrogation is perpetuating. On a more positive note, this holds tremendous promise for the continual improvement of American police interviewing and interrogation, particularly with respect to juveniles. It suggests, at least preliminarily, that police officers’ apparent unwillingness to account for youthful status in the interrogation room may be a function of inadequate training. We concur with the recommendation in Kassin et al.’s (2010) White Paper that law enforcement officers receive specialized training in interrogation of youthful and other vulnerable suspects given that the present study suggests that such training has the potential to influence police practices in everyday interrogations” (p. 282).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“This study found that police receive informal training at very high rates; almost 91% of officers reported receiving “on-the-job” training in criminal interrogation from other officers. Although not terribly surprising given the considerable monetary and personnel costs of formal interrogation workshops, this does highlight that informal training may be the predominant mechanism through which officers’ information and experience in conducting interrogations is transmitted. Such a mechanism represents both a challenge and opportunity for improving police training. On the one hand, it suggests that formal training in potentially problematic interrogation techniques (Reid or otherwise) may spread virally through agencies; indeed, officers in our study as well as previous studies have indicated using tactics similar to those found in the Reid manual without having expressly received the official Reid training. On the other hand, it suggests that formal training in more humane and/or developmentally appropriate techniques has the potential to reach a wide audience and have a marked impact on everyday interrogations in the United States” (p. 280).

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Authored by Marissa Zappala

Marissa Zappala is currently a second-year Master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her main research interests include cognitive biases, forensic assessment, and evaluator training and education. Following her Master’s, Marissa plans to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and an eventual career in psychological assessment.

Strength-based models cannot fully address direct links to future offending in detained girls

Forensic Training AcademyDetained girls’ low quality of life is indirectly linked to future offending through increased mental health problems. 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.

lhbFeatured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 3, 285-294

Quality of Life in Relation to Future Mental Health Problems and Offending: Testing the Good Lives Model Among Detained Girls

Authors

Lore Van Damme, Ghent University
Machteld Hoeve, University of Amsterdam
Robert Vermeiren, Curium-Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
Wouter Vanderplasschen, Ghent University
Olivier F. Colins, Curium-Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands

Abstract

Detained girls bear high levels of criminal behavior and mental health problems that are likely to persist into young adulthood. Research with these girls began primarily from a risk management perspective, whereas a strength-based empowering perspective may increase knowledge that could improve rehabilitation. This study examines detained girls’ quality of life (QoL) in relation to future mental health problems and offending, thereby testing the strength-based good lives model of offender rehabilitation (GLM). At baseline, 95 girls ( = 16.25) completed the World Health Organization QoL instrument to assess their QoL prior to detention in the domains of physical health, psychological health, social relationships, and environment. Six months after discharge, mental health problems and offending were assessed by self-report measures. Structural equation models were conducted to test GLM’s proposed (in)direct pathways from QoL (via mental health problems) toward offending Although we could not find support for GLM’s direct negative pathway from QoL to offending, our findings did provide support for GLM’s indirect negative pathway via mental health problems to future offending. In addition, we found a direct positive pathway from detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships to offending after discharge. The current findings support the potential relevance of addressing detained girls’ QoL, pursuing the development of new skills, and supporting them to build constructive social contacts. Our findings, however, also show that clinicians should not only focus on strengths but that detecting and modifying mental health problems in this vulnerable group is also warranted.

Keywords

good lives model, psychopathology, young offenders, female adolescents, follow-up studies

Summary of the Research

“Many detained female adolescents are involved in severe criminal behavior, such as robbery and physical violence. In addition, these girls bear high levels of mental health problems, with up to 95% having at least one psychiatric disorder” (p. 285). “It is not well understood why some girls recover from mental health problems or desist from future criminal involvement whereas others do not. This could arise in part because the majority of prospective studies with detained girls has focused on risk factors associated with the persistence of mental health and adjustment problems. These studies, of course, are relevant from a risk management perspective as they help clinicians to develop and provide interventions that are mainly oriented toward solving problems and reducing risk factors. Nevertheless, research that adds the enhancement of one’s quality of life (QoL) to the management of risk is urgently warranted. Studies that apply this strength-based perspective may inform clinicians, for example, how to support offenders in building skills and developing more fulfilling and socially acceptable lifestyles, which is thought to be linked to the reduction of risk. The present study was designed to fill this void by addressing detained girls’ QoL in relation to future mental health problems and offending, thereby testing the strength-based good lives model of offender rehabilitation (GLM)” (pp. 285-286).

“The GLM offers a rehabilitation framework for adult offenders. It forms a theoretical framework to explain relapse and reoffending, introducing QoL as a central concept. According to the GLM, humans want to realize a range of primary goods or basic needs  (e.g., inner peace and relatedness), and achieving these needs contributes to their QoL. The GLM consists of two main assumptions:  that mental health problems are obstacles that hamper the achievement of a good QoL (first GLM assumption) and that individuals who are confronted with a poor QoL may become involved in antisocial activities through either a direct or indirect pathway (second GLM assumption). The direct pathway implies that someone actively commits antisocial behaviors as an alternative strategy to reach a satisfying QoL (e.g., stealing instead of working to obtain material well-being). The indirect pathway implies that an individual’s poor QoL generates a gradual accumulation of negative experiences and deteriorating circumstances that trigger a chain of mental health problems, such as depressed feelings, often followed by alcohol/drug use. Ultimately, he or she loses control of the situation and becomes involved in criminal activities” (p. 286).

“The GLM has been applied to a broad range of offender populations yet only rarely to detained adolescents” (p. 286). “The present study [tested] GLM’s second assumption in a sample of detained girls, focusing on QoL prior to detention in relation to mental health problems and offending 6 months after discharge. We included multiple domains of QoL (i.e., physical health, psychological health, social relationships, environment), different types of mental health problems (i.e., anger-irritability, alcohol/drug use, depression-anxiety), and different types of offenses (i.e., nonviolent and violent)” (p. 286). “The participants were 95 girls who had been placed in an all-girl youth detention center (YDC) in Flanders, Belgium. Girls are referred to this YDC by a juvenile judge when charged with a criminal offense or because of an urgent problematic educational situation” (p. 287).

“Overall, girls with the lowest QoL scores had the highest rates of mental health problems after discharge, but were not at increased risk for future offending.  Although we could not find support for a direct negative pathway from QoL to offending, our findings did provide support for the indirect pathway via mental health problems to offending. This indicates that a low QoL increases the risk of mental health problems, which in turn increases the risk on offending. In addition, our findings revealed a direct positive pathway from detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships to offending after discharge. This suggests that the more girls are satisfied with their social relationships the more likely they are to reoffend” (p. 291).

“The results of the current study clearly support the presence of an indirect route to offending, as previously found among adult offenders . A low QoL placed detained girls at risk for mental health problems, which placed them at risk for offending subsequently. Detained girls’ QoL and mental health problems, together with the selected sociodemographic variables, could explain the vast majority of the variance in offending after discharge” (p. 291).

“The results of the current study did not support a direct negative effect of detained girls’ QoL on offending. This contrasts with the scant empirical research among adult offenders suggesting that a low QoL is a risk factor for recidivism” (p. 291).

“The present study found a direct positive effect of detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships on offending after discharge. Although this finding does not dovetail with prior work in adult offenders, it indicates that the more girls are satisfied with their social relationships the more likely they are to reoffend. The exclusive direct impact of the social domain of QoL on girls’ offending supports a multidimensional conceptualization of QoL, and converges with the GLM assertion that individuals attach different priorities to the different domains of QoL” (p.292).

Translating Research into Practice

“The prominent appearance of an indirect route from QoL via mental health problems to offending among detained girls yields some interesting insights pertaining to the rehabilitation of this particularly vulnerable group. Recent studies in samples of juvenile offenders have recommended a strength-based empowering approach, over a more traditional, problem-oriented one. For example, starting off by exploring the youngsters’ own perception of QoL, instead of immediately focusing on specific problems, has been shown to be a less threatening and more motivating approach. The current findings acknowledge the potential relevance of addressing one’s QoL. However, they strongly point to a pivotal role of mental health problems in the pathways toward offending, a finding that argues against an exclusive focus on strengths and empowerment. Put differently, and regardless of the importance of a strength-based approach, our findings suggest the need for appropriate methods for detecting and modifying mental health problems in this vulnerable group” (p.291).

“The lack of a direct negative effect in our sample might be because the GLM is developed as a rehabilitation framework for adult, not adolescent, offenders. Although offending among adults might be primarily guided by their own unmet needs and a poor QoL, offending among adolescents might also be to external influences, such as affiliation with deviant peers. Another explanation is that the basic needs of adolescents are generally served by their surroundings, and that these needs therefore may not be the most prominent force guiding one’s behavior.  Yet, when entering adulthood and becoming more and more financially and socially responsible to fulfill their own basic needs, some adolescents may eventually become actively involved in criminality to reach a satisfying QoL. A strength-based empowering approach might pursue the development of new skills and abilities, thereby providing adolescents with desirable and socially acceptable means to obtain a good QoL before they reach adulthood. However, the highly structured and almost artificial nature of detention forms a major challenge, as it restricts the youngsters’ autonomy and hampers the possibility to develop and practice new skills” (p.292).

The “findings regarding the social domain of QoL yield implications for both research and practice. In line with prior work, we suggest that future research regarding the GLM should pay particular attention to negative peer group affiliation and gang membership as inappropriate ways of satisfying detained minors’ primary goods of relatedness and community/ group involvement. In this respect, a qualitative research approach seems useful: for example, asking youngsters about the priority they assigned to different primary goods at the time of offending, and how they operationalized different primary goods at that time. We suggest treatment to support youngsters in building, strengthening, and extending constructive, instead of destructive, social contacts, by offering peer-helping programs, such as EQUIP. In the EQUIP program detained juveniles help each other to decrease self-serving cognitive distortions and to strengthen their moral and social skills” (p. 292).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The indirect pathway from detained girls’ QoL to offending was found for the overall latent QoL variable, as well as for each domain of QoL separately. Only exceptionally  (i.e., for the QoL domain of physical health) a reversed indirect effect was revealed, which suggests that mental health problems are more likely to result in offending than vice versa, when considering the indirect GLM route” (p. 291).

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Authored by Megan Banford

Megan Banford is a master’s 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 complete a PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

YASI’s Provides High Predictive Validity for Recidivsm in Youth Offenders

Forensic Training AcademyThe YASI was able to reach high levels of predictive validity, especially with the inclusion of strength-based items, but lost accuracy with female offending. 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.

Law and Human BehaviorFeatured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 2, 182-194

Validity of the Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument: A Juvenile Justice Tool Incorporating Risks, Needs, and Strengths

Authors

Natalie J. Jones, Orbis Partners, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Shelley L. Brown, Carleton University
David Robinson, Orbis Partners, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Deanna Frey, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Abstract

The primary purpose of this study is to introduce the Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI; Orbis Partners, 2000), which is a comprehensive assessment protocol gauging a range of risks, needs, and strengths associated with criminal conduct in juvenile populations. Applied to a sample of 464 juvenile offenders bound by community supervision in Alberta, Canada, the Pre-Screen version of the instrument achieved a high level of accuracy in predicting both general and violent offenses over an 18-month follow-up period (Area Under the Curve [AUC] .79). No significant differences in overall predictive validity were found across demographic groups, save for the relatively lower level of accuracy achieved in predicting general reoffending across the subsample of girls (AUC .68). With regard to strengths, a buffering effect was identified whereby high-risk cases with higher levels of strength had superior outcomes compared to their lower strength counterparts. Results suggest that it is advisable to consider the quantitative inclusion of strength-based items in the assessment of juvenile risk.

Keywords

Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI), juvenile assessment, strengths, Aboriginal offenders, gender-responsive assessment

Summary of the Research

“The current article features an introduction of the Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI), a risk/need/strength assessment tool employed by several jurisdictions across North America to predict recidivism and guide case management efforts in juvenile justice contexts. Consistently shown to exceed the accuracy of unguided clinical judgment, the development and implementation of formal risk assessment protocols like the YASI has burgeoned over the last few decades. Beyond a strict determination of risk to reoffend, information yielded from the assessment process can be integral to decisions regarding security classification in custodial settings, requisite levels of supervision, the prioritization of treatment targets, and institutional release” (p. 182). The tool is available in both Pre-Screen and Full Assessment form. “In each case, the protocol is scored on the basis of a semi-structured interview, with input frequently offered by parents or an alternative legal guardian. Interview-based data are supplemented with a systematic review of collateral sources including police files, probation records, school records, and mental health reports” (p.184). The YASI Pre=Screen “contains 34 items tapping both static and dynamic risk and strength factors across nine domains. Many items are scored on Likert-type scales, comprising up to six response options to maximize the sensitivity of the measure” (p.185). The Pre-Screen total score corresponds to estimated recidivism rates. The YASI Full Assessment “is more comprehensive, gauging additional strength-based factors and dynamic risk factors (or needs). The Full Assessment comprises 90 items (risk, need, and strength factors) across 10 separate domains. The quantitative score yielded from the YASI Pre-Screen is used to assess an offender’s overall risk of recidivism, classifying youth as low, moderate, or high risk. However, the computerized algorithms associated with the full assessment generate separate scores for both the risk/needs and strength components of each domain” (p.185).

The purpose of the current study was to examine the YASI’s internal consistency, predictive utility, and predictive validity. Predictive validity was hypothesized to be moderate to high. It was further hypothesized that the YASI would predict recidivism equally well across gender and ethnic subgroups. Thirdly, it was also hypothesized that the “strength-based content of the tool would enhance predictive accuracy beyond the consideration of risk/need scores. Finally, an exploratory domain-level analysis was conducted to identify those factors most highly predictive of criminal conduct” (p.185).

“Risk assessment intake information reflected in the current dataset was collected between January 2009 and May 2011 and included all youth under community supervision with Alberta Justice and Solicitor General for whom recidivism data were available over an 18-month follow-up period. These initial YASI assessments were completed by probation officers within 45 days of the youth receiving a community sentence” (p.185). “The sample comprised 464 youths on probation (114 female, 350 male), ages ranging from 12.5 to 19.7 years at intake with probation services. Of the total sample, 61.2% were Caucasian, 25.9% were of Aboriginal descent, and 12.9% identified as “Other.” Historically, 58.6% of these youths had engaged in acts of violence” (p.186)..

“The YASI Pre-Screen predicted reoffending with a high level of accuracy…Recidivism rates and risk scores were significantly higher for Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal offenders as predicted by extant literature. Contrary to our hypotheses, the YASI Pre-Screen achieved only a moderate degree of accuracy in predicting general reoffending for girls, in contrast to the high levels of accuracy achieved for males. However, the assessment protocol forecasted violent reoffending with an equivalent level of accuracy across all demographic subgroups under investigation” (p.188). Although lower than the male participants, the moderate predictive validity for the female subsample is consistent with other risk assessments measures for youth..

For individual and incremental predictive validity of risk and strength aggregate scores on the YASI Pre-Screen, “univariate analyses suggest that both risk and strength scores individually contribute to predicting new offenses committed over 18-months. The multivariate model assessing the unique contribution of risk and strength components indicates that while the risk scale accounts for the majority of the model’s predictive ability, the incremental contribution of the strength scale is trending toward statistical significance” (p.187). “High-strength scores are particularly effective in attenuating recidivism rates. Specifically, the reoffense rate of high- risk/low-strength cases is approximately twice that of high-risk/ high-strength cases” (p. 188).

Translating Research into Practice

“Results of the present study, combined with those of other recent investigations, suggest that the quantitative inclusion of strengths in risk assessment is a worthwhile endeavor that is apt to enhance both predictive and case management functions…The YASI’s quantification of strengths is unique among available assessment tools. Specifically, rather than have qualitative indicators of strengths scored on the basis of check-boxes (e.g., see the YLS/CMI), the YASI assigns a quantitative score to the degree of expression of each strength-based factor using a Likert scale. Item scores are then tabulated to produce a total strength score. One could potentially have two high-risk clients that differ widely in their expression of strengths. Given the buffering effect of strengths, a high-risk/high-strength case would effectively be lower risk overall and should arguably be processed differently than a high-risk/low-strength case,” (p.189).

“From a practical standpoint, if assessments provide both risk and strength metrics, case managers and frontline staff have more information for varying their casework strategies to address the unique issues presented by high-risk cases. Rather than treat all high-risk cases equally, the buffering effect indicates that some high-risk clients who lack strengths may need more attention than their high-risk counterparts with documented strengths. Apart from information relevant to classification decisions, employing a strength-based assessment approach can also help mobilize youth in the development of case plans. By presenting strength-based feedback to youth within the case planning context, case managers are in a better position to motivate youth to engage in a positive discussion about the need and desire to make changes, and to identify and leverage positive supports and resources in a youth’s life,” (p.189).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“It is not surprising to observe variations in reliability and validity across samples, potentially due to differences in implementation practice and measurement of recidivism. As a case in point, a survey of 117 juvenile probation officers across several American states outlined perceived obstacles in implementing risk/needs assessment protocols (Guy, Fusco, Cook, & Vincent, 2010). Of those probation officers surveyed, 63% expressed difficulty in rating items, either due to insufficient information or because they felt that item scoring criteria were not sufficiently clear. In addition to improving data gathering practices and potentially introducing clarifications into scoring manuals based on the feedback of frontline workers, the latter observation speaks to the importance of ensuring sufficient training. In order to facilitate item interpretation and scoring, instruction is relevant both at pre-implementation stages and in the form of booster training. Indeed, beyond the content of a risk assessment protocol, there is evidence to suggest that the integrity of a tool’s implementation achieved through appropriate training is essential to producing valid assessments” (p. 188).

“The Mental Health domain of the YASI did not predict criminal outcome, a finding that is also consistent with the mainstream correctional literature that conceptualizes personal distress as a responsivity factor. The reader should note that the Mental Health domain is fairly comprehensive and includes psychosis, bipolar, other mood disorders, suicidal ideation/attempts, thought/personality disorders, and a global category termed “other.” The impact of mental health indicators on juvenile justice outcomes is complex. For example, Hoeve and colleagues found that while the presence of a mental disorder predicted the severity of reoffending in a juvenile justice population, the relationship only held up when mental health disorders co-occurred with substance abuse disorders. Accordingly, the weak association between recidivism and mental health indicators was not surprising. That stated, future research is warranted before discounting mental health as noncriminogenic. There is some evidence to suggest that specific psychopathological symptoms in the form of extreme depression, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies are salient predictors of criminality for females” (p. 190).

YASI-Girls (YASI-G) is in development to better capture a gender-informed approach for this risk assessment tool. “Much of the tool parallels the YASI in its gender-neutral form but further encompasses items deemed foundational to the criminal behavior of young females according to the feminist and gender-responsive literatures. Specifically, the measure includes additional items pertinent to the nature of one’s relationships, levels of emotional expression, self-efficacy, sexual vulnerability (e.g., prostitution), early parenthood, and features a broader array of potential mental health issues…It is arguable that the additional consideration of female-responsive needs and strengths such as those featured on the YASI-G would serve to further enhance levels of predictive accuracy in the risk assessment of young females,” (p.190-191).

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Authored by Andrea Patrick

Andrea Patrick is completing her M.A. in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the future, she hopes to be directly working with forensic populations providing risk assessments, clinical evaluations as well as conducting research within the field.

Juvenile Offenders with Subclinical Depression Display Similar Delinquent Behaviors as those Diagnosed with Major Depression

Forensic Training AcademyStructured clinical interviews show an increased level of aggression, substance use, and suicidal behavior among juvenile offenders with subclinical depression. 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.

Law and Human BehaviorFeatured Article | Law and Human Behavior| 2015, Vol. 39, No. 6, 593-601

Aggression, Substance Use Disorder, and Presence of a Prior Suicide Attempt among Juvenile Offenders with Subclinical Depression

Authors

Tamara Kang, The University of Texas at El Paso
Jennifer Eno Louden, The University of Texas at El Paso
Elijah P. Ricks, The University of Texas at El Paso
Rachel L. Jones, The University of Texas at El Paso

Abstract

Juvenile justice agencies often use the presence of a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnosis as a criterion for offenders’ eligibility for mental health treatment. However, relying on diagnoses to sort offenders into discrete categories ignores subclinical disorders—impairment that falls below the threshold of DSM criteria. The current study used structured clinical interviews with 489 juvenile offenders to examine aggression, presence of a prior suicide attempt, and substance use disorders among juvenile offenders with subclinical depression compared with juvenile offenders with major depression or no mood disorder. Analyses demonstrated that juvenile offenders with subclinical depression reported significantly more aggression, abuse of substances, and the presence of a prior suicide attempt compared to juvenile offenders with no mood disorder, but did not differ significantly on aggression and substance abuse compared with juvenile offenders with major depression. These results have implications for correctional agencies’ policies through which offenders are offered mental health treatment, and provide a first step in identifying early signs of problematic behavior before it worsens. Specifically, the results support the notion that depressive disorders should be viewed along a continuum when determining how to allocate services.

Keywords

aggression, juvenile offenders, subclinical depression, substance abuse, suicide

Summary of the Research

“In response to growing awareness of the high rates of serious mental disorders (e.g., major depression and bipolar disorder) in criminal justice settings when compared with the general population, many juvenile justice agencies have developed, are considering, or are planning to use specialty services to reduce reoffending among juvenile offenders with severe mental illnesses. Specialty services include mental health courts and specialized probation caseloads, which have demonstrated efficacy at preventing recidivism. However, because access to community treatment providers is often limited, specialized mental health courts for juveniles often have eligibility requirements based on whether the offender has a diagnosable serious mental disorder” (p. 593).

The current diagnostic system overlooks individuals with subclinical depression—those who experience some symptoms of major depression and have impairment in their daily lives, but the duration, severity, or number of symptoms does not meet the threshold to warrant a formal diagnosis. For example, a juvenile who does not present with five symptoms for most of day nearly everyday for at least two weeks, however severe, would not be diagnosed with major depression according to the DSM–IV–TR or DSM–5” (p. 594).

“Delinquency, a general term for minor crime, misbehavior, disruptive behavior problems, and wrongdoing, appears to interact with major depression among adolescents because of a shared diathesis. The irritability from major depression seems to exacerbate the already high levels of aggression found in many delinquent adolescents in the community, which increases the likelihood of continued delinquency, and violence… Juvenile offenders with subclinical depression likely have many of the same problematic behaviors as juvenile offenders with major depression, but lack the minimum number of symptoms needed for a diagnosis, and are typically ineligible for specialized services. The lack of treatment for subclinical depression may increase the likelihood that the juvenile offender’s delinquency, suicidal ideation, and substance use progress to clinical levels and result in future rearrest” (p.594).

To examine the distinction between delinquent behaviors associated with major clinical depression versus subclinical depression, the present study compared juvenile offenders with a diagnosis of major depression and juvenile offenders with no mood disorder diagnosis.

“Data were derived from routine intake procedures at a juvenile probation agency, where juvenile offenders received a comprehensive semistructured mental health assessment. The semistructured interview yielded diagnoses based on DSM–IV–TR criteria. As  described later, the information from these interviews was used to sort juvenile offenders into three categories based on the absence or presence of symptoms and/or the duration and severity of the symptoms of major depression the juveniles endorsed” (p.595). The three groups were: no symptom present, presence of a symptom that did not meet full criteria, and presence of a symptom that met full criteria. Both past and present symptoms were placed into a single category of “lifetime occurrence” (p.595). A total of 489 juvenile offenders from a juvenile probation agency in the Southwestern U.S. were interviewed by master or doctoral students using the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (K-SADS) over a 20-month period.

Results

“Juvenile offenders with subclinical depression tended to report behaviors that were similar to juvenile offenders with major depression, and reported higher rates of prior suicide attempts, greater amounts of aggression, and greater rates of substance use disorder than did juvenile offenders with no mood disorder. It appears that juvenile offenders with subclinical depression experience considerable impairment that is similar to that experienced by juvenile offenders with major depression, even without meeting diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder.” (p.597).

“Recidivism risk is complicated to predict, and prior research suggests that the combination of disruptive disorders (e.g., symptoms include initiating physical fights, bullying, aggressively stealing, etc.) and substance use is even more predictive of rearrest than either component alone. Affective disorders on their own do not predict recidivism, but when combined with both disruptive behavior and substance use, the odds of recidivism are more than 2 times more likely than the odds of reoffending for juvenile offenders with no disorder. The present study supports the notion that juvenile offenders with subclinical depression are a special subgroup that may be at a higher risk of reoffending and substance use issues even though they do not have enough symptoms of depression to warrant a diagnosis” (p. 598).

“Juvenile offenders with mental health symptomology, even without meeting criteria for a DSM diagnosis, may be at a disproportionate risk of recidivism and become more deeply embedded in the criminal justice system” (p.598).

Translating Research into Practice

The authors argued against the categorical use of a DSM diagnosis of major depression as the primary determinant for mental health treatment among juvenile offenders. Instead, juvenile offenders should be diverted from the juvenile justice system and assessed for mental health needs.

The use of the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model for offender populations addresses mental illness under the responsivity model during treatment planning. “When mental illness is addressed during treatment planning, it appears that the offender has a higher likelihood of successfully abstaining from crime, as mental illness is a barrier to effective rehabilitation for criminal behavior” (p.598). If juveniles with subclinical depression are diverted away from the juvenile justice system and receive adequate mental health treatment via the RNR model, they may have a better chance of desisting from future criminal behavior.

“The present study highlights the need for juvenile justice agencies to screen all juveniles for suicidal risk and mental health symptoms…In addition, correctional staff should be educated on the symptoms that overlap and co-occur so that they can better identify the youth who are in need of services, in need of more intensive interventions, or are at a high risk for future delinquency” (p.599).

Juvenile offenders with subclinical depression are a potential high-risk group for delinquent behavior and thus warrant the necessary mental health care, whether or not they have a diagnosis of major depression.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

Although these findings suggest juveniles with subclinical depression are similar with those diagnosed with major depression in terms of treatment need, “only a small proportion of juveniles with major depression were represented in the sample (8.0% had major depression), whereas juvenile offenders with no mood disorder were overrepresented in the sample” (p.598). Additionally, the study consisted of mainly Latino participants and collapsed past and present symptoms of major depression, aggression, substance use, and suicidality into one single category. Future research may want to address these limitations to both replicate the findings and note any differences in outcomes for other, non-Hispanic ethnicities or when symptom presentation is coded differently.

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Authored by Sara Hartigan

6Sara Hartigan is a second year Forensic Psychology Master’s student at John Jay and hope to obtain a Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology in the future. My main areas of interest include clinical evaluations and developing treatment interventions within the forensic population.

Mothers’ Attitudes toward Justice System Influence Adolescent Probationary Success

Forensic-Training-AcademyMothers’ negative legitimacy attitudes toward the justice system indirectly predict increased youth re-offending. 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.

 

ppplFeatured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law| 2015, Vol. 21, No. 4, 432-441

 

Viewing Law and Order: Mothers’ and Sons’ Justice System Legitimacy Attitudes and Juvenile Recidivism

Authors

Caitlin Cavanagh, University of California, Irvine
Elizabeth Cauffman, University of California, Irvine

Abstract

Negative attitudes toward the justice system are associated with higher rates of reoffending, but there is little information about how these negative attitudes are formed among youth. Despite the well-documented link between parents’ and children’s attitudes in other domains, no research has explored how parents’ attitudes toward the justice system may be associated with youth attitudes. The relation between youth and mother justice system legitimacy attitudes, and the effect these attitudes have on juvenile offenders’ reoffending behavior, was examined using structural equation modeling. Mothers and their sons (N = 315 pairs, 630 total) were interviewed after the son’s first arrest and again 12 months later. Results indicate that sons’ attitudes (directly) and mothers’ attitudes (indirectly) predicted increased youth self-reported reoffending 12 months after the first offense. Furthermore, mothers’ attitudes indirectly predicted youth official rearrests 12 months after the first offense. No racial differences were found. These findings provide evidence that mothers socialize youth attitudes toward the justice system, and suggest that family context may influence youth probationary success. When designing both legislation and interventions, practitioners and policymakers must keep in mind the broader family context in which youth offenders are embedded.

Keywords

juvenile justice, legal socialization, procedural justice, developmental psychology, parenting

Summary of the Research

“Attitudes toward the legitimacy of the justice system describe the degree to which one views legal entities and processes as valid, effective, and fair. A negative attitude toward the justice system implies that one considers the justice system to be an invalid or unjust institution. As citizens view the justice system as less legitimate, they may feel justified in breaking the law. Thus, it is not surprising that more negative attitudes toward the justice system are associated with higher rates of offending. Importantly, as with adults, negative attitudes toward the justice system have been associated with higher rates of offending among adolescents. For this reason, it is important to evaluate the mechanism through which adolescents develop attitudes toward the justice system as one means of reducing juvenile offending. A likely, yet unexplored, mechanism of youth legal socialization is a youth’s parents. The family context is highly salient to youths’ general attitude socialization. A wealth of developmental psychological literature indicates that parents’ attitudes often shape those of their children across a diverse array of domains. To date, however, it is unknown whether parents socialize attitudes about the justice system to their children. The present study integrates criminological and psychological theory to explore how parents’ attitudes, toward justice system legitimacy are associated with youth justice system attitudes, and how each affect youth reoffending behavior” (p. 432).

“Youth base their legitimacy attitudes on the accrual of personal or vicarious experiences. Thus, a youth’s context (attitudes and factual experiences of family, peers, and the neighborhood) is particularly influential in informing the youth’s conception of justice system legitimacy. There is evidence that youth views toward justice system legitimacy are associated with juvenile offending, recidivating, and rule-violating behavior in both delinquent samples and in community samples. When youths low in justice system legitimacy violate the law, they may induce a belief-enforcing response from legal actors, perpetuating a cycle of distrust and offending” (p.433).

“There is evidence that youths adopt parents’ (particularly mothers’) attitudes toward antisocial behavior, risk-taking, and violence. Much of the present research on the intergenerational transmission of attitudes is limited in that studies only report the parents’ attitudes as perceived by the adolescent. Few studies have measured both the parents’ and the youths’ attitudes simultaneously. In addition, no research has been conducted on parents’ justice system legitimacy attitudes (trust of the justice system) may relate to youth legitimacy attitudes. The present study addressed both of these gaps through a dual-reporter study of the transmission of justice system legitimacy attitudes from parent to child. If parents do influence their children’s attitudes toward the justice system, adolescent offenders may adopt their parents’ low legitimacy attitudes, leading these youths to persist in lawbreaking behaviors” (pp. 433-434).

“The goal of the present study was to examine the relation between parents’ and youths’ justice system legitimacy attitudes and juvenile offending among a sample of 315 first-time male juvenile offenders and their 315 mothers/female guardians. We expected that mothers would socialize their sons’ justice system legitimacy attitudes. In addition, according to the criminological procedural justice literature, which has consistently demonstrated a link between low legitimacy attitudes and reoffending, we expected that sons with lower justice system legitimacy attitudes would report more reoffending 12 months after their first arrest. In other words, we expected that mothers would socialize their sons’ attitudes toward the justice system, which would in turn affect reoffending” (p.434).

“The results of the present analyses indicate that both sons’ and, indirectly, mothers’ low feelings of justice system legitimacy predict increased youth reoffending 1 year after their first arrest “(p.437). “These results expand on the wealth of parent–adolescent attitude socialization literature by being the first to examine justice system legitimacy attitudes. In particular, our findings that official arrests are indirectly affected by mothers’ attitudes, above and beyond youths’ attitudes, mirrors previous findings that a parent’s attitude about aggression, more than an adolescent’s own attitude about aggression, may predict the adolescent’s actual aggression” (p.438).

Translating Research into Practice

“The present study has implications for juvenile justice policy in terms of improving the way that the justice system works with families. Legitimacy attitudes within families may affect youth reoffending after a first arrest. However, many parents in high-crime areas may be justified in feeling that the justice system treats their families harshly or unfairly. In areas where crime is high, the response is often aggressive policing and greater use of force, leading law-abiding residents within such neighborhoods to feel overpoliced. Similarly, minority families may feel unfairly targeted by justice system actors through racial profiling and justice system nonresponse to reported crimes in their neighborhoods. In such situations, some may feel that the only logical attitude to have is one that discounts legal actors as illegitimate” (p.439).

“Given that it is the perceived fairness of the procedure that is hypothesized to inform justice system legitimacy, practitioners (e.g., police, judges, and probation officers) are encouraged to work openly and respectfully with families of juvenile offenders. A youth’s first arrest (e.g., his first personal experience with the juvenile justice system) is a prime opportunity to start tabula rasa with justice system legitimacy attitudes. A sense that their son’s case was handled fairly, from arrest to probation, may ameliorate both a mother’s and a son’s view that the justice system is not legitimate” (p.439).

“Perhaps the most important finding from the present study is that the family context may influence youth reoffending behavior by playing a role in setting the lens through which the youth views the justice system. In designing legislation and interventions, we must keep in mind the broader context in which youth offenders are embedded. Particularly, it is important to consider how the goals of parents of justice system-involved youths may differ from the goals of law enforcement or interventionists. If it is assumed that parents hold the justice system in positive regard when designing youth probationary or rehabilitative programs, the most high-risk population (those who do not feel the justice system is legitimate and thus are likely to have reoffending sons) will not be served” (p.439).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Although the present study was not developed to examine the effect of race on families’ attitudes toward the justice system, we did find a direct effect of race on mothers’ perceptions of the justice system, but no interaction between race and legitimacy attitudes on youth reoffending behavior. The relation between race and justice system attitudes should be explored in future research” (p.438).

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Megan BanfordAuthored by Megan Banford

Megan Banford is a master’s 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 complete a PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

Site Differences Impact Clinician Applications and Predictive Accuracy of the J-SOAP-II

Forensic-Training-AcademyThe J-SOAP-II should be used as part of a battery of risk assessment tools rather than in a strict actuarial manner for assessing future risk. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

 

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2015, Vol. 14, 56-65ijfmh

 

Predictive Validity of the J-SOAP-II: Does Accuracy Differ Across Settings?

Authors

Ricardo Martinez, Fordham University
Barry Rosenfeld, Fordham University
Keith Cruise, Fordham University
Jacqueline Martin, Hoboken University Medical Center

Abstract

Court and mental health workers are frequently asked to determine which juvenile sex offenders (JSOs) are most likely to reoffend. One instrument commonly used to guide decision making with JSOs is the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol-II (J-SOAPII). However, research utilizing this instrument has often generated contradictory results, perhaps related to the types of samples studied. The current study sought to compare the predictive accuracy of the J-SOAP-II across two samples of JSOs (a medium-security correctional setting versus an unlocked residential sex offender treatment program). Although the overall predictive accuracy for identifying post-release arrests for sexual offenses (i.e., sexual recidivism) was modest (AUC = .64) and not statistically significant, differences emerged with regard to the accuracy of some individual scales and subscales. Similarly, while no significant differences in predictive accuracy were observed between the two study sites, a number of interesting findings were observed. These findings highlight the need to consider risk assessment measures in light of the setting in which they are used in order to maximize predictive accuracy and optimize treatment and dispositional decision making.

Keywords

sex offenders, juveniles, risk assessment, J-SOAP-II, recidivism

Summary of the Research

There have been mixed findings regarding the predictive validity of the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol (J-SOAP-II). “This research is no doubt hindered by the small sample sizes used in most studies, and the low rates of sexual reoffending that are typically found. Nevertheless, it appears that the scale’s predictive utility is somewhat stronger with JSOs in less restrictive settings, whereas its use with institutionalized offenders being considered for release into the community may be questionable. However, none of the published studies to date have directly compared samples drawn from different types of correctional/treatment settings” (p.57).

“The current study sought to address this gap in the existing literature by comparing the predictive accuracy of the J-SOAP-II across two samples of JSOs, a medium-security correctional setting versus an unlocked residential sex offender treatment program. In addition, unlike much of the existing literature that has examined risk assessments conducted at the time of intake, this study examined risk of reoffense at the time of release from the facility” (p.57).

Overall, results were moderate but insignificant when examining predictive accuracy using J-SOAP-II total scores. “Stronger, but still moderate predictive accuracy was observed for the Dynamic summary scale and its components (Scales III and IV)…However, neither the Static summary scale nor its components (Scales I and II) significantly predicted sexual reoffending in the total sample…Predictive accuracy was generally weaker for non-sexual recidivism though these small effects were often significant. In fact, only Scale II (Impulsive/Antisocial Behavior) generated a medium effect size” (p.62)

“Despite some small differences in AUC estimates across the two study sites for the individual J-SOAP-II subscales, there were also no significant differences in predictive accuracy. Similarly, no site differences were observed with regard to general reoffending, as only Scale II was significantly associated with general reoffending and this association was roughly comparable for both study sites” (p.61).

Translating Research into Practice

Clinicians may be most successful using the J-SOAP-II as a tool to generally and systematically review relevant risk factors for treatment and intervention purposes. The modest findings of the predictive accuracy of the tool suggest that the J-SOAP-II may not be appropriate as a pure actuarial measure in terms of anchoring risk estimates on total, summary, or subscale scores. “Thus, the scale may have ample utility for its recommended uses, despite the limited utility in predicting reoffense among institutionalized JSOs when used as a set of “scores”” (p.64).

“Interestingly, although the J-SOAP-II manual suggests that Scale IV (Community Stability/Adjustment) be omitted for youth who are incarcerated or housed in a secure treatment facility at the time of the evaluation, ratings based on treatment records demonstrated some utility for Scale IV. Reliability for the scale (internal consistency and interrater) was adequate and internal consistency was stronger when total scores included the Scale IV items. In addition, JSOAP-II total scores that included Scale IV were somewhat stronger (though not significantly so) than those without Scale IV, and the Dynamic summary scale (which combines Scales III and IV) was superior (though again, not significantly) to Scale III alone. Thus, while the J-SOAP-II authors recommend omission of this scale for detained youth, these findings suggest that the scale may have utility even for these individuals” (p. 63).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Although far from definitive, these findings may reflect the greater intensity of sex offender treatment at PRTC, as this setting focused much more intensively on sex offender programming than did JTSB. The significantly lower scores on JSOAP-II Scale III (Intervention), reflecting fewer intervention-based risk factors, supports this hypothesis but is clearly insufficient to “test” the differences in treatment programming across the two sites” (p.63).

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Authored by Andrea Patrick5

Andrea Patrick is completing her M.A. in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the future, she hopes to be directly working with forensic populations providing risk assessments, clinical evaluations as well as conducting research within the field.

Gender Differences Apparent in the Use and Interpretation of the SAVRY for Juvenile Offenders

Forensic-Training-AcademyGender plays a role in the association between the risk/need and protective factors on the SAVRY and risk of violence. 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, 1-15lhb

 

Identifying Gender Specific Risk/Need Areas for Male and Female Juvenile Offenders: Factor Analyses with the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY)

Authors

Ed. L. B. Hilterman, Tigburg University and Justa Mesura, Consultancy & Applied Research, Barcelona, Spain
Ilja Bongers, GGzE Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Netherlands, and Tigburg University
Tonia. L. Nicholls, University of British Columbia and Simon Frasier University
Chijs van Nieuwenhuizen, Tilburg University and GGzE Center tor Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Abstract

By constructing risk assessment tools in which the individual items are organized in the same way for male and female juvenile offenders it is assumed that these items and subscales have similar relevance across males and females. The identification of criminogenic needs that vary in relevance for 1 of the genders, could contribute to more meaningful risk assessments, especially for female juvenile offenders. In this study, exploratory factor analyses (EFA) on a construction sample of male (n = 3,130) and female (n = 466) juvenile offenders were used to aggregate the 30 items of the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY) into empirically based risk/need factors and explore differences between genders. The factor models were cross-validated through confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) on a validation sample of male (n = 2,076) and female (n = 357) juvenile offenders. In both the construction sample and the validation sample, 5 factors were identified: (a) Antisocial behavior; (b) Family functioning; (c) Personality traits; (d) Social support; and (e) Treatability. The male and female models were significantly different and the internal consistency of the factors was good, both in the construction sample and the validation sample. Clustering risk/need items for male and female juvenile offenders into meaningful factors may guide clinicians in the identification of gender-specific treatment interventions.

Keywords

juvenile offenders, gender differences, factor analysis, risk management, violence risk assessment

Summary of the Research

“In recent decades research has demonstrated differences in risk factors between male and female juvenile offenders. For instance, risk factors related to family and social relationships have been found to be more important for female adolescents than for male adolescents (Cauffman, 2008; Fields & Abrams, 2010; Zahn et al., 2008). Compared with male juvenile offenders, female juvenile offenders also have a higher likelihood of exhibiting more mental health problems (Grande et al., 2012; Marston, Russell, Obsuth, & Watson, 2012). Further, according to Funk (1999), the presence of antisocial peers is more important for male juvenile offenders than for female adolescents. Factor analytic studies on risk assessment tools can provide information on differences in relevance of risk and protective factors between groups, for example genders. However, research on the psychometric structure of risk assessment tools for adolescents is scarce, especially regarding gender differences” (p.2).

Professionals in the Catalonian Justice Department in Catalonia, Spain were trained to administer the SAVRY to juveniles from 2006 until 2008. Interrater reliability for accuracy was excellent. Each assessment was given twice throughout the duration of the offenders stay in the juvenile sector. The following 5-factor model was assessed: antisocial behavior, family functioning, personality, social support, and treatability. Construction and validation samples were also used to support the 5-factor model.

“In the first step, we examined which factors could be found in the risk and protective items of the SAVRY that refer to gender specific risk/need areas. In the second step, the fit of the factor models for both male and female juvenile offenders was evaluated in validation samples and subsequently the difference between the models for both genders was measured. In the third step, we explored whether the found solutions could be accounted for by one underlying second-order construct. Finally, we analyzed the internal consistency of the different factors” (p.2).

Results

“The inclusion of Poor School Achievement and Community Disorganization in the Antisocial Behavior factor for female, but not for male offenders, suggests that female offenders have more acting out behavior in familiar environments like school or their neighborhood. This could be related to findings that female adolescents are more likely to be involved in relational or social aggression (Herrman & Silverstein, 2012; Miller, Winn, Taylor, & Wiki, 2012; Zahn et al., 2008; that may take place in familiar settings like school, the neighborhood, and the family) than in direct aggression, while males tend to be more involved in direct aggression toward strangers (Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008; Herrman & Silverstein, 2012; Skara et al., 2008; Zahn et al., 2008). The inclusion of the Community Disorganization item in the Antisocial Behavior factor could also indicate that violent and delinquent behavior among female adolescents was, compared with male juveniles, closer to their living environment (Kling, Ludwig, & Katz, 2005). Our results are consistent with research that indicates that female juvenile offenders benefit more, compared with male adolescents, from programs like “Move to Opportunity” in which their families are moved to safer neighborhoods (Clampet-Lundquist, Edin, Kling, & Duncan, 2011; Kling et al., 2005)” (p.10).

“For both males and females, Factor 2, Family Functioning, refers to a history of dysfunctional family relations. The inclusion, for female offenders, of current poor parental management in the Family Functioning factor also suggests that the association between a dysfunctional family history and poor supervision and harsh or inconsistent discipline by caregivers could be stronger for females than for males” (p.11).

The authors also found that female juvenile offenders with behavioral problems were associated with substance abuse and self-harm. Treatability and Social Support also differed based on gender wherein female mental health needs were mostly related to treatment compliance, but male treatment compliance was associated with the absence of protective factors.

Translating Research into Practice

“The clinical interpretation of the gender specific factors found in this study may also suggest different strategies to reduce recidivism risk for male and female juvenile offenders. This is a potentially promising development since there are indications that traditional treatment interventions designed on the basis of risk management tools for male juvenile offenders are less effective for female juvenile offenders (Miller, Leve, & Kerig, 2012; Vitopoulos et al., 2012). Based on these findings, it is recommended that risk assessment tools like the SAVRY provide specific information regarding gender specific effects of risk and protective factors. By doing so, it could be easier for assessors to decide which items are more relevant for female or male offenders, interpret gender specific differences, and adjust risk reduction strategies accordingly” (p.11)

“For a future version of SAVRY it would be important to consider the inclusion of additional protective factors (e.g., positive future orientation, positive relationships with parents and peers, and prosocial romantic relationships, which could be especially relevant for female offenders; Oudekerk & Reppucci, 2010) as a means of improving balanced assessment and treatment planning (see also de Vries Robbé et al., 2015; Viljoen et al., 2014). In addition, coding the protective items on a three-point scale, instead of dichotomously, would offer the advantage of more flexibility in scoring, which would make the tool more dynamic and more prone to measure change over time” (p.12).

“The separate risk/need assessment models for male and female juvenile offenders, and/or the inclusion of empirically based information on specific gender effects of risk and protective items may guide clinicians in the identification of gender-specific treatment needs; this is essential information to inform the debate regarding the necessity of gender-specific treatment interventions” (p.12).

As the authors have suggested, identifying gender differences on the SAVRY can aid professionals in understanding both the motivations behind juvenile criminal behavior and the resulting risk associated with violence. It can also be helpful in developing programs and treatments necessary to target gender specific risk needs and reduce recidivism.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Future research that evaluates field implementations by comparing and contrasting research-based SAVRY assessments and clinical SAVRY assessments (e.g., looking at agreement by different categories of assessors; testing predictive accuracy) would be able to address some of these gaps in knowledge. Second, the generalizability of the results to non-Spanish populations of juvenile offenders is limited and this study needs to be replicated in other cultural settings in, for instance, other European countries, North America and Latin America. Finally, although the sample contained a large proportion of immigrants (male: 43.2%; female: 20.8%), replication in ethnic and cultural minorities would be important to gain more insight into risk and protective factors important to diverse populations” (p.12)

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Authored by: Sarah Hartigan

6Sara Hartigan is a second year Forensic Psychology Master’s student at John Jay and hope to obtain a Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology in the future. My main areas of interest include clinical evaluations and developing treatment interventions within the forensic population.

Shame and Guilt are Important to the Understanding of Psychopathy and Psychopathology in Juveniles

Forensic-Training-AcademyFor juveniles, shame is positively related to psychopathic behaviors while guilt is negatively related to psychopathic characteristics. 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. 5, 451-462lhb

Remorse, Psychopathology, and Psychopathy Among Adolescent Offenders

Authors

Andrew Spice, Jodi L. Viljoen, Kevin S. Douglas, and Stephen D. Hart, Simon Fraser University

Abstract

Remorse has long been important to the juvenile justice system. However, the nature of this construct has not yet been clearly articulated, and little research has examined its relationships with other theoretically and forensically relevant variables. The present study was intended to address these issues by examining relationships among remorse, psychopathology, and psychopathy in a sample of adolescent offenders (N = 97) using the theoretically and empirically established framework of guilt and shame (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Findings indicated that shame was positively related to behavioral features of psychopathy, whereas guilt was negatively related to psychopathic characteristics more broadly. In addition, shame was positively associated with numerous mental health problems whereas guilt was negatively associated with anger, depression, and anxiety. These results provide empirical support for theory that psychopathy is characterized by lack of remorse (e.g., Hare, 1991), and also underscore shame and guilt as potentially important treatment targets for adolescent offenders.

Keywords

remorse, psychopathy, adolescent offenders

Summary of the Research

“The construct of remorse has played a long-standing role in the juvenile justice system. Remorse is emphasized in Canadian and United States case law, legal scholarship and theory, and forensic psychological assessment instruments. Despite the apparent importance of this construct for justice-involved youth, however, little research has investigated its relationships with other theoretically related and forensically relevant constructs. The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship of remorse with psychopathic characteristics and psychopathology among adolescent offenders.” (p. 391)

Remorse was conceptualized as guilt, shame, or a combination of both because an understanding of those concepts may provide a clearer picture of remorse, particularly in the context of psychopathy and psychopathology in juvenile offenders. These two constructs were tested with the Test of Self-Conscious Affect (TOSCA-A) and Offence-Related Shame and Guilt Scale (ORSGS). The TOSCA-A assesses guilt and shame through a series of 15 hypothetical scenarios that are unrelated to offending. The participant rates guilt and shame for each scenario on a 5-point Likert scale based on their own reactions to the scenarios. The ORSGS assesses guilt and shame based on previous criminal behavior. This tool uses 16 items on a 7-point Likert scale. The Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-2 (MAYSI-2) was used as a self-report tool to assess mental health for juveniles involved in the criminal justice system. The tool consists of 52 items with dichotomous answers of yes and no. The Psychopathic Checklist: Youth Version (PCL; YV) was used to assess psychopathic traits in juveniles. The tool consists of 20 items scored on a 3-point scale by a trained rater.

The main hypotheses of the study predicted a negative relationship between guilt and psychopathic traits and a positive relationship between shame and antisocial and behavioral aspects of psychopathy. Juveniles (n=97) were recruited from 11 probation offices in Canada. Data collection focused on structured interviews, self-report measures, and a review of probation files by trained research assistants.

“The present study was intended to investigate the relationship of guilt and shame with psychopathology and psychopathic characteristics among adolescent offenders. We strove to improve upon limitations of prior literature pertaining to remorse by addressing these questions using the theoretically and empirically established framework of guilt and shame. Our findings indicated that (a) shame was positively related to the behavioral features of psychopathy whereas guilt was negatively related to psychopathic characteristics more broadly, (b) shame was related to numerous mental health problems whereas guilt was negatively related to several of these problems, and (c) older youth evidenced lower levels of offense-related shame. Moreover, all associations held true after controlling for youths’ offense histories” (p. 457).

“With regard to mental health difficulties, present findings indicated that shame was positively associated with numerous forms of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, and somatic complaints. These results further underscore the harmful nature of shame, and suggest that its relationship with psychopathology as observed among noncriminal adults may generalize to an adolescent offender population. Given that the central features of shame are worthlessness, powerlessness, and a sense of a defective self, it is perhaps not surprising that this emotion is related to a range of pathological symptoms in youth just as it is in adults (p. 459).

“Guilt, on the other hand, was negatively related to anger, depression, and anxiety…Guilt is associated with acceptance of responsibility and constructive intentions, which are generally incompatible with the externalization of blame and destructive urges that can often accompany anger. Accordingly, our findings emphasize that guilt may be helpful in regulating anger among adolescent offenders” (p. 459).

Translating Research into Practice

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to empirically examined the long-held theoretical assertion that psychopathy is associated with a lack of guilt. In turn, these results provide empirical support for that aspect of psychopathy theory and also for the validity of the TOSCA-A and ORSGS. The consistency of our findings across both measures (i.e., general guilt vs. offense related guilt) is also in accordance with the notion that psychopathy involves general affective deficits across multiple domains.” (p. 458)

“Given high rates of mental disorder among adolescent offenders and present findings that shame is linked to numerous psychological symptoms, clinicians who assess and treat adolescent offenders may wish to place increased focus on shame. Assessment procedures, for instance, could include administration of the TOSCA-A and the ORSGS, which take relatively little time to administer and score. Using these measures rather than solely asking youths if they feel guilty or shameful may circumvent concerns that adolescents may falsely claim to experience these emotions to create a favorable impression for the evaluator” (p.459).

“In the case of intervention, shame-targeted protocols such as those included in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be helpful. These procedures are effective in reducing shame among adult women with borderline personality disorder, and DBT as a complete treatment is effective for youth. Additional research is needed to determine whether such strategies are helpful for adolescent offenders” (p.460).

“Our findings also suggest that guilt, being negatively associated with psychopathology, may useful to encourage… A helpful alternative may be interventions that focus on building awareness and understanding of guilt, such as those in DBT. Such interventions may be especially relevant for youth high in psychopathic characteristics in light of present findings suggesting that these youth have consistent deficits in guilt across multiple domains” (p. 460).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The present findings did indicate that older youth were less likely to feel offense-related shame. Given that no mental health problems or psychopathic characteristics appeared to account for this association, it is possible that this finding represents adaptation to current circumstances (e.g., coping well with the emotional effects of an offense). Further research on age, shame, and resilience may clarify this possibility.” (p. 459)

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Authored by: Amanda Reed and Andrea Patrick

amanda-headshotsAmanda L. Reed is a first year student in John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s clinical psychology doctoral program. She is the Lab Coordinator for the Forensic Training Academy. Amanda received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wellesley College and a Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research interests include evaluator bias and training in forensic evaluation.

 

5Andrea Patrick is completing her M.A. in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the future, she hopes to be directly working with forensic populations providing risk assessments, clinical evaluations as well as conducting research within the field.

No Racial Bias in Response to Juvenile Probation Violations

Forensic-Training-AcademyNo systematic pattern of racial discrimination appears to exist post release in the juvenile probation system. However, juvenile justice continues to respond punitively to probation violations instead of focusing on treatment-oriented responses. 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. 3, 323-337pppl

 

The Role of Race in Probation Monitoring and Responses to Probation Violations among Juvenile Offenders in Two Jurisdictions

Authors

Jordan Bechtold, University of Pittsburgh
Kathryn Monahan, University of Pittsburg
Sara Wakefield, Rutgers University
Elizabeth Cauffman, University of California, Irvine

Abstract

Though many studies have examined racial disproportionality in arrest and sentencing, few have examined disparities once initial sentencing has been completed. We examined racial disparities in responses to juveniles who violate the conditions of a probation sentence. Across 2 sites with diverse ethnic and racial compositions and sentencing regimes, we tested whether probation officers monitored youth differently according to their race or ethnicity, whether judges had differential responses to probation violations for youths of different racial or ethnic groups, and whether a jurisdictional context driven by sentencing guidelines responds differently to violations relative to one with greater flexibility. Although we find some regional differences, no systematic pattern of discrimination toward one particular racial or ethnic group is documented. Finally, our data demonstrate that the most common juvenile justice system response to probation violations in both sites was punitive, and not treatment or otherwise oriented.

Keywords

racial disparity, juvenile justice, probation violations

Summary of the Research

“In nearly every U.S. state, Black and Hispanic youth are more likely than White youth to be arrested, detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, or transferred to adult centers compared with remaining in juvenile centers. Although differences in criminal involvement explain a large portion of the racial differences evident further down the justice system pipeline, racial disparities in the correctional population often persist even after differences in criminal involvement and arrest rates are taken into account. All of these factors suggest that the sources of racial disparities that arise within the correctional system today likely result from subtle differences in policy implementation, and may occur outside the formal initial sentencing stage” (pp. 323-324)

“In this study, we examine racial disparities in a relatively novel context and stage of the criminal justice system—the monitoring of juvenile offenders by probation officers and official responses to probation violations in the juvenile probation system. In addition to modeling racial disparity in official responses to probation violations, as most researchers do, we focus on the monitoring of youth prior to a violation response, because differential processing of probation violations may rise from differential exposure to surveillance or the surveillance regime” (p.324).

“We examine the role of race in legal decision making across two different jurisdictions in two states with vastly different justice system regimes and demographic contexts. Data from Washington provide an urban site with White, Hispanic, and Black youths, and information gathered from an urban jurisdiction in Louisiana compare the probation experiences of Black and White youth. Official court and probation records were obtained, reviewed, and coded for youth on probation in one county in Washington and one parish in Louisiana. The sample for Washington consisted of 151 youth (79% male; 34.4% White; 33.1% Hispanic; 32.5% Black). The sample for the Louisiana site consisted of 113 youth (72.6% male; 46.9% White; 53.1% Black)” (p.326).

“Although there is widespread evidence of racial disproportionality in justice system involvement, results of the present study suggest that there are few racial disparities in responses to juvenile probation violations. Indeed, in samples with different racial compositions and sentencing regimes, we find no consistent evidence for bias in the response to probation violations: Nearly all youth receive days in secure detention in response to a probation violation. We also find no race or ethnic differences in the type of violation received or in the rate with which youth receive their first violation. Although there were no consistent racial and ethnic differences in the rate with which youth receive their first probation violation, it is noteworthy that more frequent probation officer monitoring is related to sooner violations in both sites. In fact, in both sites, probation officer monitoring is the most robust predictor of the rate with which youth receive a violation” (p.333).

“Our data suggest that the juvenile justice system should concentrate their efforts on alternatives to detention for those who violate probation. It is especially noteworthy that the most common juvenile justice system response to probation violation is overwhelmingly punitive, and not treatment or otherwise oriented. A larger toolbox of possible responses may be more effective in rehabilitating and preventing youth from transitioning to the adult criminal justice system” (p.335).

Translating Research into Practice

“Results from the present study underscore the call by to collect data at multiple sites and at various points along the correctional system pipeline to fully understand the extent to which race shapes responses to youth in the juvenile justice system. Aggregating data across sites may lead researchers to draw inappropriate conclusions or overlook important site-specific disparities” (p.333)

“Although we are unable to comment on the basis of this study whether some types of responses to probation violation were more effective at face value, exclusive reliance on days in secure confinement as punishment is counterintuitive. Detention is intended to keep the public safe from juveniles who may pose danger to the community, and holds juveniles accountable for their behaviors with a more punitive approach. Detention may also be used to temporarily detain individuals who are at risk of failing to appear at an upcoming hearing. Ironically, time in detention has been linked to increased likelihood of recidivating. Furthermore, time in detention can have serious negative effects on youths’ development. Of particular relevance to probation outcomes is that detention may hinder the development of adolescents’ psychosocial maturity, including the ability to act autonomously and control one’s impulses. Although detention is intended to keep the public “safe,” recall that the most common violation in both sites was a school-related violation. Yet the response to violating school-based terms of conditions of probation is to incarcerate: Approximately 36% of those with school violations in Louisiana were required to serve detention days, and approximately 73% of those with school violations in Washington were sentenced to time in detention. Greater variety of response to probation violations may be warranted” (p. 334).

“Given the variability in number of probation violation warnings offered to youth on probation, probation departments should consider designing procedures to formally track probation violation warnings. Departments will also need to develop and implement standardized policies that ensure warnings are distributed in the same manner to similarly delinquent offenders. This will ensure that certain of probationers are not more likely than others to be given a warning prior to the official filing of a violation. Probation departments should also design formal guidelines with regard to the nature and frequency of probation officer contacts as well as formal guidelines regarding the structure and content of contact records. Probation officers should be encouraged to contact their clients a minimum number of times to ensure that clients receive (and participate in) the recommended treatment and services, and to ensure that clients have everything they need to succeed on probation. However, because the data here corroborate the findings from other studies and suggest that the number of times a officer tries to contact his client is one of the best (if not the best) predictor of how soon an offender will receive a probation violation, and the most prevalent response to a probation violation in our study is time in detention, we believe that the number of contacts, and the nature and purpose of these contacts, should be somewhat monitored and standardized. Standardizing is important to ensure that offenders are not differentially exposed to surveillance on the basis of race or other demographic characteristics. Departments should also develop more ways to intervene with noncompliant juvenile offenders so that time in detention is not the only available response to probation violations. It will also be important for probation departments to incentivize officers to accurately and regularly update their contact logs “(pp. 334-335).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Still, the most encouraging (and consistent) finding from the present study is that we do not find systematic bias in the way certain ethnic and racial groups are treated while on juvenile probation, even in contexts in which the literature on adult sentencing disparities suggest may be ripe for discrimination. Consistent with [previous research], we also do not find overwhelming evidence of bias in responses to probation violations (with or without control variables). Although null findings are traditionally problematic, given there are many factors that could cause important group differences to be missed, involvement with the justice system is a context in which it is critical to discuss nonsignificant group differences. The lack of significant race and ethnicity differences in the treatment of youth on probation is particularly interesting given the striking racial disparities that exist in other stages of justice system involvement (e.g., arrest rates, initial sentences, please bargains, prison sentences). Given the overwhelming evidence of racial disparities in some justice system contexts, from a policy perspective, it is crucial to correctly identify the stage, place, and mechanisms that produce these biases” (p. 326).

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Authored By Megan Banford

Megan Banford is a master’s 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 complete a PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

Interactive Training System Successful for Child Interviewers

A computer-based, interactive training system demonstrates promising results for investigative interviewers of children by improving interview questioning skills, increasing adherence to interview protocol, and enhancing overall quality of interviews. 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.

ppplEvaluation of a Comprehensive Interactive Training System for Investigative Interviewers of Children | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2015, Vol. 21, No. 3, 309-322

Evaluation of a Comprehensive Interactive Training System for Investigative Interviewers of Children

Authors

Mariri Benson, Deakin University
Martine B. Powell, Deakin University

Abstract

This article reports on the evaluation of an interactive interviewer training system with a large, heterogeneous sample of investigative interviewers of children. The system, delivered predominantly through computer-assisted learning activities, focused on how to elicit important evidential details from child witnesses in a narrative format. Two studies are reported, each adopting a pre versus post training design. Study 1 examined the effect of the training on trainees’ (N = 92) performance, using mock interviews where an actor played the role of the child in a highly controlled manner. Study 2 examined the effect of the training on field interviews (N = 156) conducted prior to and after the training. Five measures were analyzed: (a) proportion of interviewer question types, (b) proportion of desirable interviewer behaviors, (c) adherence to the interview protocol, (d) interview length, and (e) the quality of evidential information sought. Overall, the findings provide clear support for the utility of the training system. Irrespective of the type of interview or measure, adherence to best-practice interviewing increased from pre- to posttraining, with some evidence supporting sustained performance 12 months after there had been no intervening training or supervision. The implication is that there is now an evidence-based alternative to the traditional classroom-based training system for investigative interview- ers. Suggestions for future research are also discussed.

Keywords

child witnesses, investigative interviewing, interview training, training evaluation

Summary of the Research

Interviewing children can be a tedious and complex process, which requires careful practice by those conducting the interviews. In a forensic context, investigative interviews of children can be even more complex, as they are “centered on the elicitation of accurate, detailed, and coherent accounts of offenses. Such interviewing requires highly specialized training. The current article reports on the evaluation of a new interactive training system with a large cohort of child abuse interviewers in two jurisdictions of Australia. The new system consisted of computer-assisted learning activities, which focused on using open-ended questions to elicit narrative accounts for both investigative and evidential purposes. The learning activities, prepared in collaboration with academics and industry partners, were completed over several months in trainees’ regular workplace environments. Delivery of the learning exercises was standardized and controlled via an online learning site that uses a management system to allow in-house (organizational) trainers to track individuals’ progress” (p. 309).

The authors address the concern that, “despite strong consensus about what constitutes best-practice interviewing, a major gap exists between interviewing methods dictated in evidence-based interview protocols and those strategies used by interviewers in the field” (p. 309). They outline three features of modern child interviewing protocols: instructional ground rules about the process of interviewing, the use of a practice narrative prior to questioning of the event under investigation, and the use of open-ended questions.

The authors discuss possible factors contributing to the low efficacy of current training techniques: an underestimation of the skill required to teach child witness interviewing and a need for more interactive components to training in order to avoid passive learning. “Research in the interviewer-training field has made some head- way in identifying how to amend the structure and format of training programs to more successfully reduce the gap between best-practice guidelines and actual interview practice. Specifically researchers have increased the intensity and frequency of feedback, prolonged the length of time during which trainees received feedback, staggered face-to-face training sessions over an extended period of time, and incorporated subsequent “refresher” sessions after training completion. While such attempts have led to better success in open-ended question usage, the maintenance of skills over time (from immediate posttraining to several months follow- up) is still problematic. Another attempt to address the gap has involved incorporation of e-learning technology. E-learning technology has transformed workplace learning across a number of domains in terms of accessibility, flexibility in delivery, cost-efficiency and the fact that trainees can progress through activities in their own time and at their own. E-learning allows for active participation from trainees and places more responsibility for professional development on the individual learner. Another benefit of e-learning is that it can incorporate a wider array of media elements, such as text, narration, animations and film clips, as well as empirically supported instructional strategies into the learning environment, which promote long-term retention and transfer of skills and knowledge into practice” (p. 311).

The current study examined the efficacy of a web-based, interactive training program on child witness interviewing techniques. “At the time of this evaluation, the current training system, named the Specialist Vulnerable Witness Forensic Interview Training, had been in operation for 18 months across two Australian jurisdictions. The overriding focus of the training was to increase understanding of sufficient evidential requirements and how to elicit this information in narrative format. The training took a number of months to complete and consisted of 15 modules, covering a wide variety of topics: defining the various question types, child development, techniques on how to elicit a disclosure, how to interview about repeated abuse, identifying relevant legislation, recognizing grooming behavior, and interviewing cross- cultural children and other witnesses with complex communication needs. An interview protocol, similar in structure to the NICHD protocol and approved by local Crown prosecutors (Benson & Powell, manuscript under review) was also introduced” (p. 312).

The training program included interactive exercises, film clips, examples, presentations, virtual simulations, self-initiated practices, and quizzes. Participants were provided with immediate online feedback including explanations of correct answers. Progress was monitored through a management system by the trainers in order to prevent participants from advancing through the course too quickly. Throughout the training, mock interviews with actors (trained to respond like abused children) were utilized and conducted over phone or video call.

The study was completed in two parts. In Study 1, 92 trainees participated in the interactive training system and were assessed based on mock interviews, Participants demonstrated a decrease in specific and leading questions asked, an increase in open-ended questions asked, and the improvements lasted through a three to six month follow up. In Study 2, 78 trainees were evaluated on field interviews by the same individual both before and after training., The number of specific and leading questions of interviews are decreased, and an increase in open-ended questions was also observed. There was also a significant increase in adherence to the interview protocol post-training. These improvements showed no evidence of decline at follow-up.

“The current findings provide clear support for the utility of the training system evaluated in this study. The most important indicator of best-practice interviewing is adherence to open-ended questions, and this training was associated with a significant increase, along with relatively high posttraining rates, in the use of these questions. For the mock interviews, the mean proportion of open-ended questions increased from 30% at pretraining to 58% at posttraining. For the field interviews, the mean proportion of these questions increased fourfold from 10% pre- to 40% posttraining … Importantly, improvements in performance were sustained at the 3–6 month follow-up mock interview assessment and for up to 12 months in the field…. What the current study showed is that long-term maintenance of interviewing skills is not just about the prevalence of feedback and supervision in the months after the course ceases. The structure of the training program itself also impacts skill maintenance.” (p. 316).

Translating Research into Practice

“The implication of the current findings for government organizations is that there is now an evidence-based alternative to the traditional classroom-based training system for investigative interviewers. This is good news for those organizations with limited budgets and staff spread over large geographic regions. When excluding the costs of writing and developing the materials, the training system was no more costly to run than the previous short-term classroom-based training where most of the budgets were spent on travel, accommodation, and other requirements associated with the abstraction of large numbers of trainee interviewers into the classroom. The main costs associated with this course were technological support, the hiring of actors, the maintenance of the management system, and the evaluation of interviewer performance. It also needs to be considered that the training would have led to cost savings in other areas. Shorter interviews are associated with lower interview transcription costs. The provision of ready-made training activities and resources allow in-house trainers to focus on supporting trainee interviewers, as opposed to writing and delivering course content. Further, computerized assessment allows easier evaluation and monitoring of individual skills over time” (p. 317).

The findings of this research may be directly translated into practice by providing an innovative training method relevant to child witness interviewing and, more broadly, leading to the potential adoption of similar training programs across other forensic professional practices. The current study suggests that the use of modern technology for offering professional training is not only cost-efficient and convenient for the learner, but also successful in improving skills and practice.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

Notably, the comprehensive interactive training program in the current study appears to maintain its success over several months. Future research and similar programs may consider secondary follow up analyses, as well as follow up training or materials to provide to learners. It would be worthwhile to create new ways to help forensic mental health and investigative professionals maintain skills learned in training over longer periods of time.

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Authored By Marissa Zappala

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Marissa is currently a second-year Master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her main research interests include cognitive biases, forensic assessment, and evaluator training and education. Following her Master’s, Marissa plans to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and an eventual career in psychological assessment.