Does Active Response vs. Observer Role Impact Officer Recall of Firearms Encounters?

Forensic Training AcademyA recent study in the United Kingdom suggests accurate recall of details in firearms encounters may decrease when police officers have an active role in the encounter. 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 Behavior Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 1, 23-35


Memory and the Operational Witness: Police Officer Recall of Firearms Encounters as a Function of Active Response Role


Lorraine Hope, University of Portsmouth
David Blocksidge, Metropolice Police, London, United Kingdom
Fiona Gabbert, Goldsmiths, University of London
Arta Mirashi, Universty of Portsmouth
Emel Atuk, University of Portsmouth


Investigations after critical events often depend on accurate and detailed recall accounts from operational witnesses (e.g., law enforcement officers, military personnel, and emergency responders). However, the challenging, and often stressful, nature of such events, together with the cognitive demands imposed on operational witnesses as a function of their active role, may impair subsequent recall. We compared the recall performance of operational active witnesses with that of nonoperational observer witnesses for a challenging simulated scenario involving an armed perpetrator. Seventy-six police officers participated in pairs. In each pair, 1 officer (active witness) was armed and instructed to respond to the scenario as they would in an operational setting, while the other (observer witness) was instructed to simply observe the scenario. All officers then completed free reports and responded to closed questions. Active witnesses showed a pattern of heart rate activity consistent with an increased stress response during the event, and subsequently reported significantly fewer correct details about the critical phase of the scenario. The level of stress experienced during the scenario mediated the effect of officer role on memory performance. Across the sample, almost one-fifth of officers reported that the perpetrator had pointed a weapon at them although the weapon had remained in the waistband of the perpetrator’s trousers throughout the critical phase of the encounter. These findings highlight the need for investigator awareness of both the impact of operational involvement and stress-related effects on memory for ostensibly salient details, and reflect the importance of careful and ethical information elicitation techniques.


eyewitness memory, stress, arousal, law enforcement, interviewing

Summary of the Research

“Law enforcement officers, military personnel, and others in civil or emergency response occupations are frequently involved in dynamic, challenging incidents. Depending on their particular operational mandate, these “operational witnesses” may need to act to preserve life, protect citizens, neutralize threats, initiate recovery, or engage in some combination of related activities to resolve an incident. Accurate and detailed accounts of the incident, and information about the operational witness’s own activities and that of colleagues, may be important for subsequent investigations and the eventual delivery of justice” (p. 23). “The current research examined the effects of active involvement on eyewitness recall memory. We compared the recall performance of operationally active witnesses responding to a (simulated) threatening incident with that of nonoperational witnesses, or bystanders, to the same event; hereafter referred to as active and observer witnesses, respectively” (p. 23).

“First, we examined whether there were differences in the accounts provided by operational (active) and nonoperational (observer) witnesses where both had been exposed to the same incident. To achieve this we put pairs of police officers into an immersive and stressful simulated scenario where one officer was instructed to respond as they would usually in the course of their duty (i.e., an active operational witness) while the other was instructed to simply observe the scenario. To our knowledge, this is the first study to adopt a methodology of this kind to examine the effects of active role involvement in an eyewitness context. We predicted that officers allocated to the active response role would show an increased physiological response in the scenario, reflecting by proxy, increased stress as a function of their active response role. On the grounds of this increased arousal, and consistent with the theoretical accounts outlined above, we predicted that the quality and quantity of free recall reported by the active response officers would be impaired relative to the observers” (p. 25). “In addition to the free-recall task, both witnesses were asked a series of detailed closed questions. These questions were included to contribute data and inform current practice and policy in the investigation of shooting incidents” (p. 25). “We were particularly interested in the recall performance of active witnesses (relative to their observing cowitnesses) on questions pertaining to use and location of the target’s weapon as such questions are, unsurprisingly, a central focus of investigations following police shootings. Specifically, we predicted that additional demands on the resources of operational witnesses in conjunction with higher arousal and stress levels, both likely to occur when police officers were required to discharge (or consider discharging) their own weapon, would impair recall for such information” (p. 25).

“Our second independent research question concerned the possible effect of expectations as they relate to memory performance under challenging operational conditions. Deliberately, the scenario was designed to trigger schema-driven expectations regarding the likely action of the perpetrator. In the final sequence of the scenario, the perpetrator who was at this point known to be armed, turned quickly to face the officers, throwing out his hands in front of him. However, the weapon (a gun) remained in the waistband of his trousers. In light of the memory deficits reported in previous research and well-documented effects of schema-reliance, we predicted that memory reports provided by officers in the Active (cf. Observer) condition may be particularly vulnerable to the expectation-based error that the perpetrator would point the weapon at them” (p. 26).

Officers were paired and then randomly assigned to either the “Active Officer” or “Observer Officer” role. All participants viewed a briefing video that depicted a hostage-taking incident, where an angry student took a professor and another student hostage with a knife. “The Active Officer was provided with a training handgun loaded with five blank rounds (i.e., their weapon was available for discharge) and informed s/he was part of an initial response team with the objective of moving forward into the classroom adjacent to the corridor containing the hostages to tactically assess the situation and intervene, or advise other teams available to intervene as necessary. Before entering the critical response phase, both participants, seated side by side, viewed the briefing video on a laptop screen. They were told that this was “cell phone footage that a witness captured as the situation developed this morning.” This concluded the briefing phase. At the outset of the critical response phase, both officers were then taken into the classroom where they could view the live CCTV footage of the ongoing incident” (p. 27). They proceeded to encounter an “ ‘augmented reality’ scenario, lasting 4 min, which incorporated prerecorded and live elements. The prerecorded elements of the incident were presented as “live” CCTV footage and were integrated with fully scripted, tightly controlled live elements, reenacted for each pair of participants, using three actors (one male “perpetrator,” two male “hostages”). At the outset, the perpetrator was shown via a CCTV-feed, threatening the two hostages in a hallway (outside the classroom where they had originally been located in the briefing video). One of the hostages was then released and could be seen walking down a hallway, appearing first in the “CCTV footage” and then in reality through a window in the classroom through to the same hallway… the perpetrator then entered the classroom (where the officer participants were located) using a hostage as a shield and holding a knife to the hostage’s neck. After issuing various demands, he set the hostage free and threw the knife to the ground before retreating to the hallway and closing the door to the classroom. He could then be seen, on the CCTV, tucking the gun into the waistband of his jeans. In the final live interaction, the perpetrator reentered the classroom in an agitated manner. The gun remained in the waistband of his trousers throughout” (p. 26). All participants then provided a free recall and answered closed questions about the incident.

There were no significant differences between operationally active witnesses and observer witness regarding the initial briefing video, which suggests that all participants, regardless of role, had a similar baseline for recall of events. “However, an interesting difference emerged between active and observer officers in their recall of the critical response phase. Operationally active witnesses reported significantly fewer correct details about the scenario than observer witnesses. However, there were no differences, according to role type, in the overall accuracy rate of information reported. Thus, operational witnesses, in free- recall tasks at least, were able to sustain the accuracy of their accounts. Indeed, accuracy rates for freely reported information were very high across both operational and nonoperational witnesses (>92%)” (p. 30). “Operationally active witnesses showed significantly higher levels of physiological arousal, as marked by higher HRs and lower HRV, during the critical response phase of the scenario in comparison with their nonoperational counterparts. It is noteworthy that significantly different HR measures were recorded for active witnesses despite the fact that officers in both active and observer roles were exposed to the same critical scenario and stood side by side while the scenario unfolded. In other words, higher HRs and lower HRV did not reflect increased physical activity—in fact, we deliberately limited the potential for differential physical movement through the enforcement of predetermined containment positions. Therefore, active witnesses in the current study experienced higher levels of physiological arousal or stress response as a function of the demands of their operational response role. Mediational analyses revealed that the observed effects of role on free recall performance were related to level of stress, as indexed by the maximum HR recorded during the critical response phase. Thus, while it is important to consider the role of a witness to an event, the degree of arousal experienced is also an important factor” (p. 30).

Translating Research into Practice

“These are important findings and, to our knowledge, this is the first study to document a physiological difference between witnesses who have different roles in responding to the same incident, observe that the effect of role operates through an arousal mechanism and demonstrate differences in memory performance for operational versus nonoperational witnesses. As such, these findings confirm the merits of considering the role of “operational witness” when evaluating their statements” (p. 31). “Examination of the errors made by active witnesses in response to closed questioning highlights particular areas of vulnerability in their recollection of the incident. Specifically, as illustrated by performance on target questions, the recall performance of active witnesses was significantly impaired, relative to observer officers, for critical information about the weapon in the final moments of their interaction with the perpetrator (i.e., when threat level was greatest). Active witnesses reported less information than observers in response to questions about the weapon and their responses were less accurate. Active officers were also more likely than their observer counterparts to categorize their use of a Do Not Know response as “I did not report an answer because the information was not present in the event”. This suggests that details of the event were either not encoded in the first place or were no longer accessible” (p. 31).

It would be important for practitioners who interview officers involved in these incidents (i.e., psychologists, other law enforcement personnel, legal professionals) to consider these findings by interviewing the active officer separately from any other observer witnesses. Separate interviews would allow for a comparison of recalled memories of the event, and the findings of the research should be considered when discrepancies arise. Additionally, considering the recent frequency of police misconduct allegations and accusations of excessive force in the United States, the research described here should alert the psychological and legal communities to the necessity of careful and ethical techniques when it comes to eliciting information from officers involved in high stakes situations. The apparent ability of officers in this study to recall a fair amount of detail despite having been under pressure should suggest that suggestive interviewing and aggressive questioning of officers may be unnecessary. However, a higher stress response and a lesser ability to recall accurate details than their observer counterparts could explain why the details of reported events may differ between actively involved officers and other witnesses.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Through examining the performance of witnesses who, by virtue of their duty, are required not only to witness but also to react and respond under stressful conditions, the current research constitutes an important and timely contribution both to the psychological literature and wider policy concerns in legal and investigative contexts. To date, little research has systematically examined the recall of officers for challenging or threatening operational incidents, particular those involving use of lethal force. However, the investigation of such incidents constitutes a major and high profile task both for police forces and external agencies… Internationally, such investigations are typically high profile, attracting both public and media attention, and have serious consequences for the officers involved. Thus, the development of evidence-based policy and investigative practice is critical. The current results document the vulnerability of memory in this context and highlight the need for well-informed approaches to eliciting information from operationally active witnesses” (p. 32-33).

Join the Discussion

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

Authored by Marissa Zappala

Marissa ZappalaMarissa 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.

Join Michael Perlin and Heather Ellis-Cucolo for LIVE Professional Training on Mental Illness and Risk Assessment

Please join our Spring Training Session on Mental Illness, Dangerousness, the Police Power, and Risk Assessment presented by Professors Michael Perlin and Heather Ellis Cucolo. We limit the number of participants in each Spring Training session to ensure that you have the opportunity to engage in meaningful interaction and discussion with the instructors. This 30-hour training program includes weekly 1.5-hr live webinars with the instructors and supplemental readings from Professor Perlin’s casebook over the course of 10 weeks, beginning March 21st, 2016. Early Registration ends March 1st!


This Spring Training Session will focus on the relationship between mental illness, dangerous behavior and the police power, the ability of mental health professionals to predict dangerousness, and the significance of risk assessment instruments for a variety of decisions to be made in the legal system. Students will discover how these relationships and concepts play out in a variety of settings, including involuntary civil commitments, right to refuse treatment, and more.


Register for Training & Consultation on the HCR-20-V3 from Dr. Kevin Douglas & Dr. Stephen Hart

Our Spring Training Session on the Evaluation of Risk for Violence using the HCR-20-V3 presented by Dr. Kevin Douglas and Dr. Stephen Hart will soon be under way! We limit the number of participants in each Spring Training session to ensure that you have the opportunity to engage in meaningful interaction with Drs. Douglas and Hart and to discuss your current clinical cases in a small-group format. This 30-hour training session includes 20 hours of online training and 10 hours of consultation time with the instructors over the course of 10 weeks, beginning March 21, 2016.

Session 1: Evaluation of Risk for Violence using the HCR-20-V3 Dr. Kevin Douglas & Dr. Stephen Hart

The HCR-20 (Version 2; Webster, Douglas, Eaves, & Hart, 1997), according to a recent survey, is the most commonly used violence risk assessment measure across 44 different countries. It helps professionals in correctional, mental health, and forensic settings make decisions about who poses higher versus lower risk for violence, either within institutions or in the community, and to devise and monitor violence risk management plans. The HCR-20 (Version 2) has been evaluated in more than 100 studies and implemented or evaluated in at least 32 countries.

Recently, Version 3 of the HCR-20 (Douglas, Hart, Webster, & Belfrage, 2013) was completed and released. Version 3 maintains the basic features of Version 2, but has additional features that will help decision makers to determine which risk factors are most relevant at the individual level, how to produce a meaningful case formulation, how to develop helpful risk management plans, and how to make decisions about level of violence risk. Some of its items have been changed as well.

This training program focuses on the revised HCR-20 (now called HCR:V3) in the U.S. and describes why and how the HCR-20 was revised; how Version 3 differs from its predecessors; and initial research validation of Version 3. The trainee is taken through the foundation for structured professional judgment, how to rate the presence and relevance of each of the HCR-20 Version 3 items, how to formulate risk scenarios, how to consider case management issues for the evaluee, and how to conceptualize and provide summary judgments regarding the evaluee’s overall risk. Participants will also complete the HCR:V3 on a practice case. In addition, participants will engage in small-group discussion each week with the instructor about current clinical cases or other clinical implementation issues.


AP-LS Conference 2016

 American Psychology-Law Society Conference 2016

The American Psychology-Law Society Annual Meeting will be March 10-12 in Atlanta, Georgia at the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

The meeting provides an invigorating glimpse of new developments in research, law and policy across a broad array of topics such as: forensic assessment, children and the law, jury decision-making, victims and trauma. Students and young professionals can network with those who have made distinguished contributions; practitioners can keep abreast of the latest clinical and legal advances; and all can enjoy a conference and social program they can tailor to their interests.

For the pre-conference workshop brochure, click here.

For more information, visit the AP-LS Annual Conference page.

Within-Conference CEs

Registration is still open for within-conference CE credit. There is a $35 administrative fee for this service, which entitles you to earn up to 21.25 hours of CE credit. The process is easy, all it requires is for you to register your contact information on the CONCEPT site. Then during the conference (or after the conference is over), complete an evaluation form for each session you attend and print your certificate(s).

For detailed information on within-conference CE’s, please visit the CONCEPT AP-LS page.

If you would like to register for within-conference CE’s, click here.

Join us for Spring Training this March

Our Spring Training Sessions begin soon. These sessions provide the opportunity to be trained by and receive consultation from some of the leading experts in the field. These courses are intended for mental health or criminal justice professionals interested or focused on expert evaluation or testimony, including public defenders, mental health staff, victim support staff and more.

Spring Training Sessions are guided online training programs that run for 10 weeks and are 30 hours long (20 hours online training + 10 hours of consultation). New content is released each week and participants are guided through the course with email notifications explaining what is to be accomplished each week. Participants should expect to devote approximately 3 hours each week to the training program, including a one-hour consultation session with the instructor for small group discussions of cases and clinical implementation issues.

Upon completion of the Spring Training Session, participants will have accrued 30 hours of training on the topic and an in-depth understanding of the relevant evaluation issues. Please click on the title of each program to learn more about the program.

This Spring we are pleased to offer 2 Sessions:

Session 1: Assessment of Risk for Violence using the HCR-20 Version 3

Instructor: Dr. Kevin Douglas & Dr. Stephen Hart

Dates: March 21, 2015 – May 23, 2016 (10 weeks)

20 hours of online training + 10 hours of consultation (1 hour/week)

Early Registrations ends March 1st!


Session 2: Mental Illness, Dangerousness, the Police Power, and Risk Assessment

Instructor: Professors Michael Perlin and Heather Ellis-Cucolo

Dates: March 21, 2016 – May 23, 2016 (10 weeks)

Weekly 1.5 hours live webinar and 1.5 hours of self study case work

Early Registrations ends March 1st!

Register Now for AP-LS 2016 Within-Conference CEs

apls-iconRegistration is now open for within-conference CE Credits at the AP-LS annual meeting in Atlanta

CONCEPT is pleased to offer Continuing Education credits for some of the sessions at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS). We do this as a service to our profession as many of our colleagues appreciate the ability to receive CE credit for attending this conference.

The 2016 Conference will be held in Atlanta from March 10 – 12, 2016.

There is a $35 administrative fee for this service, which entitles you to earn up to 21.25 hours of CE credit. The process is easy, all it requires is for you to register your contact information on the CONCEPT site. Then during the conference (or after the conference is over), complete the evaluation forms for the sessions you attend and print your CE certificate(s).

For detailed information on within-conference CE’s, please visit the CONCEPT AP-LS page.

If you would like to register for within-conference CE’s, click here.




Early Registration Ends January 31st for 2016 American Psychology-Law Society Conference

2016 American Psychology-Law Society Conference

The Westin Peachtree Plaza

210 Peachtree ST. NW

Atlanta, GA

March 10-12, 2016


The preliminary 2016 AP-LS conference schedule is now available here:

As a reminder, Early Bird Registration ends January, 31, 2016, register now to save on registration fees.  Please register online via the American Psychology-Law Society website.

Hotel registration for the 2016 conference is now open. Please book online via the American Psychology-Law Society website.

Student committee sponsored fun run registration is now open, please submit the form to Kathy Gaskey via email (, fax: (910) 933-4018 or mail (American Psychology-Law Society, PO Box 11488, Southport, NC 28461) by Feb. 13, 2016.

The AP-LS Continuing Education Committee has put together a program of diverse and innovative full and half day workshops to take place on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, eligible for up to 7 hours of CE credit.

This is a friendly reminder that the Early Bird Rate for the AP-LS Pre-Conference Workshops is only available until January 16. Space is limited in each workshop, so register now to secure your spot and save on workshop registration fees.

 NOTE: If you would like to register for a workshop only and NOT the annual AP-LS conference, please email Kathy Gaskey at

All conference information, registration forms can be found on the American Psychology-Law Society Website.

Mental Health Courts adhering to the Risk-Need-Responsivity Model lower recidivism risk

Forensic-Training-AcademyThe Risk-Need-Responsivity model may be an effective case management approach for MHCs to assist with decision-making regarding admission, supervision intensity, and intervention targets. Interventions in mental health court contexts should attend to both criminogenic and mental health needs. 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, 489-502lhb

Multidimensional Evaluation of a Mental Health Court: Adherence to the Risk-Need-Responsivity Model


Mary Ann Campbell and Donaldo D. Canales University of New Brunswick-Saint John and Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
Angela E. Totten Saint John Police Force and Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
Ran Wei University of British Columbia–Okanagan
Alex C. Macaulay and Julie L. Wershler University of New Brunswick-Saint John and Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


The current study examined the impact of a mental health court (MHC) on mental health recovery, criminogenic needs, and recidivism in a sample of 196 community-based offenders with mental illness. Using a pre–post design, mental health recovery and criminogenic needs were assessed at the time of MHC referral and discharge. File records were reviewed to score the Level of Service/Risk-Need- Responsivity instrument to capture criminogenic needs, and a coding guide was used to extract mental health recovery information at each time point. Only mental health recovery data were available at 12 months post-MHC involvement. Recidivism (i.e., charges) was recorded from police records over an average follow-up period of 40.67 months post-MHC discharge. Case management adherence to the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model of offender case management was also examined. Small but significant improvements were found for criminogenic needs and some indicators of mental health recovery for MHC completers relative to participants who were prematurely discharged or referred but not admitted to the program. MHC completers had a similar rate of general recidivism (28.6%) to cases not admitted to MHC and managed by the traditional criminal justice system (32.6%). However, MHC case plans only moderately adhered to the RNR model. Implications of these results suggest that the RNR model may be an effective case management approach for MHCs to assist with decision-making regarding admission, supervision intensity, and intervention targets, and that interventions in MHC contexts should attend to both criminogenic and mental health needs.


case management, mental health court, mental health recovery, offenders with mental illness, Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model

Summary of the Research

“Mental health courts (MHCs) are diversionary programs that redirect offenders with mental illness away from the criminal justice system and into the mental health system. Although studies have demonstrated the positive impact of MHCs on mental health and recidivism outcomes, a limitation of MHCs is that none have made use of a theoretically and empirically based risk assessment instrument to aid in case management and treatment planning, nor do they draw from models of effective correctional rehabilitation. The goal of the current study was to evaluate a Canadian MHC, the Saint John MHC, within the context of a well- validated correctional case management strategy known as the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model” (p. 489).

Mental Health Courts (MHC)

“MHCs are problem solving– oriented courts designed to reduce recidivism and meet the mental health needs of persons with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system. These courts attempt to balance the legal responsibility of protecting the public with meeting the mental health needs of the accused by integrating mental health and social service interventions into the court’s operations. Although there is no prototypical model of MHCs, they have common features. MHCs use a team approach, often composed of at least legal, mental health, and public safety professionals. Cases appear on a separate docket from traditional court, and legal and treatment-oriented sanctions are imposed for noncompliance. Participation is usually voluntary, and the participant must accept responsibility for their behavior, though not necessarily in the form of a guilty plea. Completion of a MHC program usually results in a reduction or dismissal of the index criminal charges that led to the MHC referral. MHC participants have described their MHC experience in positive terms and perceive meaningful differences from traditional court environments, which tend to be more adversarial in nature” (p. 490).

“With regard to mental health recovery outcomes, MHC evaluations have generally produced positive findings. Studies have linked participation in MHCs with increased access to mental health services, enhanced capacity for independent functioning, reduced substance use, and improved mental health outcomes in its participants” (p. 490).

The Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Model

“The RNR model is comprised of the three principles of risk, need, and responsivity. The risk principle states that intensive case management and intervention services should be reserved for high-risk offenders, whereas low risk offenders only require minimal services. The need principle states that to reduce recidivism risk, treatment should target criminogenic needs (i.e., risk and need factors that have an empirically demonstrated association with criminal behavior). The “Central 8” risk/need factors include a history of antisocial behavior, procriminal attitudes, antisocial peers/limited prosocial peers, antisocial personality, lack of prosocial leisure activities, lack of education/employment, family/marital problems, and substance abuse. The responsivity principle states that treatments based on cognitive- social learning methods are the most effective at reducing criminal behavior, and intervention strategies should be tailored to match the offender’s individual learning styles, motivations, and abilities (e.g., physical disabilities, mental health, low intelligence). Research has demonstrated the value of adherence to the RNR model for the purposes of risk reduction in offender populations” (p. 490-491).

“Applied to a MHC context, the RNR model would advocate for case management plans that match supervision and intervention intensity to an individual’s recidivism risk, emphasize the importance of treating criminogenic needs directly tied to criminal behavior in conjunction with mental health specific intervention, and would do so using evidence-based methods of intervention that are tailored to each client’s strengths and weaknesses. The RNR model has relevance to offenders with mental illness given that the major risk factors for general and violent recidivism are generally the same for offenders with or without mental illness. Furthermore, mental illness is only directly tied to criminal behavior in a minority of cases. Thus, a primary focus on mental health intervention while neglecting criminogenic factors and recidivism risk status will likely limit the ability of any program to reduce the risk of future criminal behavior in offenders with mental illness” (p. 491).

This Study

This study conducted a retrospective file-based review of cases that had been referred to the St. John MHC, in New Brunswick, Canada, to “(a) to evaluate the capacity of a MHC to lead to changes in mental health recovery, criminogenic needs, and recidivism risk, and (b) to examine the degree to which RNR principles were naturally embedded within the evaluated MHC program model even though this particular program had not been developed with this model in mind” (p. 491).

Results of the study revealed that “across assessment periods, completers had significant score decreases for most criminogenic needs. In contrast, partial-completers had a significant increase in Criminal History scores and there were no changes for nonstarters” (p. 495). Further, “there was a tendency for completers to have the lowest rate of recidivism relative to partial-completers and nonstarters, but these differences were not statistically significant” (p. 495). Additionally, findings suggest that at the time of discharge, issues related to mental health recovery had stabilized or improved.

“One of our core objectives was to examine whether MHC involvement facilitated recidivism risk reduction. At discharge, completers had moderate reductions in general recidivism risk and criminogenic needs, whereas partial-completers and nonstarters had little to no changes in these areas. In line with previous research, these results suggest that involvement in MHC has the potential to affect recidivism risk, with the greatest gains achieved by receiving the full dosage of the MHC program” (p. 499).

Translating Research into Practice

“The similar general recidivism patterns, particularly between completers and nonstarters, suggest that being processed through the MHC has an equivalent impact on recidivism as found by those cases processed through the traditional court system. However, our regression analyses indicated that matching needs to intervention is essential to facilitate recidivism reduction. This result highlights the need to pay closer attention to criminogenic factors and better integration of RNR principles in any program attempting to reduce criminal behavior, including MHCs” (p. 499).

Formal integration of the RNR model should be considered to bolster positive outcomes that MHCs have to offer mentally ill offenders. “The need principle of the RNR model advocates for correctional interventions that target specific dynamic criminogenic needs of the individual. The lack of attention to criminogenic risk factors in MHCs has been a noted criticism in the literature. Although addressing clinical concerns is an essential component of mental health recovery and can positively impact lifestyle factors that make one vulnerable to the influence of criminogenic risk factors, there should exist a balance between addressing mental health needs and criminogenic needs” (p. 500). “In addition, an integrated RNR and mental health recovery focused assessment and case management process may improve the capacity of MHCs to effectively achieve their dual goal of reducing the criminalization of offenders with mental illness and enhancing their functioning” (p. 501).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The benefit of the MHC intervention was primarily limited to offenders who completed the full dose of the program. Further research is needed to understand the reason why some offenders succeed in the program, but others do not” (p. 501).

Join the Discussion

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


Authored by Amanda Beltrani

3Amanda Beltrani is a current graduate student in the Forensic Psychology Masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, specifically, criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.

Psychological Assessments for Aboriginal Offenders may be Culturally Biased

The Correctional Service of Canada faces an order to stop using key psychological risk assessments on aboriginal offenders because they may be culturally biased. In a 37-page decision, Federal Court of Canada Judge Michael Phelan said he will hold off for 30 days to give the government time to make submissions on how to establish the reliability of the important tools. For more information on this read the article posted by the Vancouver Sun.

On November 10th, Drs. Steve Hart, Karl Hanson, and Mark Olver will be presenting in a webinar on “Ewert v Canada: Implications for Forensic Practice.” This will be of interest to anyone with interest in risk assessment or cross-cultural risk assessment. A recent Federal Court of Canada case essentially prohibited the use of certain actuarial instruments with Aboriginal offenders within CSC. The two experts involved in this case were Steve Hart and Marnie Rice.

CONCEPT will be offering FREE Continuing Education (CE) credit for psychologists who attend the webinar. To register for the FREE CE credit, please click here.

(Note: You still need to send an email to Dr. Andrew Haag at to request the link to join the webinar.)

Brochure - Ewert v Canada - Webinar copy







Call for Abstracts | 16th Annual IAFMHS Conference

Posted below is the Call for Abstracts for the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services Conference, to be held in NYC from June 21st-23rd, 2016.


Keeping Abreast of Changing Times:

Education, Training, & Practice to Enhance Forensic Mental Health


16th Annual IAFMHS Conference

June 21st-23rd, 2016

John Jay College of Criminal Justice | New York City

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: October 31st, 2015

Submit at:


The IAFMHS Board of Directors and the 2016 Local Organizing Committee (LOC) are pleased to invite you to participate in the 16th Annual IAFMHS Conference.

Proposals for papers, symposia and poster presentations will be accepted online at the IAFMHS website: Abstracts must be submitted using the online submission form, please follow the instructions provided on the website. Information about registration for the conference, workshops, hotels and transportation options will also be posted online as it becomes available.

Presenters are responsible for their own registration, transportation and accommodations costs.


  • Education and Training
  • Learning Technologies
  • Supporting Knowledge Exchange
  • Collaborative Relationships between Systems
  • Promising Practices: Effective Training
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Moving Research into Policy and Practice
  • Performance as an Expert
  • Prevention and Health Promotion
  • Interdisciplinary Work
  • Juvenile Offenders
  • Risk Assessment and Management
  • Forensic Mental Health Assessment
  • Resilience and Protective Factors
  • Genetics & Neurobiology
  • Legal Practice, Issues, and Policy
  • Special Populations
  • Sex offending
  • Gender issues
  • Case Studies



Submission deadline: October 31, 2015
Author notification: Mid-December, 2015
Registration opens: January 1, 2016
Presenter registration deadline: April 1, 2016
Early registration deadline: April 1, 2016

Fun run: June 23, 2016*
Conference banquet: June 22, 2016*
Workshops: June 20 & June 24, 2016* | Fordham University Law School

*additional fees apply | IAFMHS Members receive a discount on Conference Registration | Inquiries:

To download this information, click here.