Psychologists are not the only group who must understand and critically evaluate the process of Violence Risk Assessment. It has become increasingly important for attorneys to have a basic understanding of what constitutes a reliable and valid assessment of risk. A risk assessment will commonly be judged, not by academic peer review, but by the court. Attorneys often must decide what questions are to be addressed and who the most qualified evaluator is. Dr. Richard Alberta, Minneapolis Licensed Psychologist, provides a clearly articulated model of risk assessment to guide attorneys in their decision-making duties.
Dr. Alberta uses the following 5-step procedure to provide comprehensive Violence Risk Assessment.
- Defining the question: Dr. Alberta helps the consumer of the Violence Risk Assessment frame the question very specifically. For example what is the risk to be assessed (personal injury, threat, criminal recidivism, domestic abuse) over what time span (life time or short term) and in what settings (confinement or community)?
- Considering normative data and population base rates: once the Violence Risk Assessment question is defined, Dr. Alberta formulates a risk estimate by relying on empirically derived data called base rate. A base rate is simply the prevalence of a particular characteristic or behavior within a particular population. In Violence Risk Assessment, the violence base rate is the proportion of a particular population (e.g. civil psychiatric patients, released sex offenders, paroled offenders) that commits violence in a particular period of time.
- Considering empirically supported risk/protective factors: for example, Dr. Alberta’s Violence Risk Assessment provide information on static risk factors such as history of violence and the type and severity of such violence. The collection of static risk factors is complemented by the collection of dynamic or changeable risk factors such as impulsivity, negative mood, psychosis, antisocial attitude, and substance abuse. Finally, he assesses protective risk factors such as strengths (school/work participation and interpersonal relationships) and resources (community support and pro-social neighborhoods).
- Using reliable and valid psychological forensic tests: Dr. Alberta, being mindful that the court often raises questions of what standard to use in deciding what evidence to admit, selects psychological forensic tests that are
- (a) based on theory that has been tested
- (b) based on information that has been published and peer reviewed
- (c) based on an established error rate,
- (d) based on general acceptance in the psychological forensic field.
- Considering ideographic risk factors: Dr. Alberta is aware that despite the importance of psychological forensic test, attention must be given to your client’s individual propensity toward violence. A Violence Risk Assessment that contains only psychological tests and lacks additional information specific to your client’s individual situation would be incomplete. Therefore, he balances test information with client ideographic risk factors such as:
- (a) multicultural variability
- (b) unique risk or protective factors such as advanced age
- (c) co-existing mental illness,
- (d) the need for violence prevention (as opposed to violence prediction).