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Behav Sci Law. 2003;21(2):269-79.

Sex offenders and actuarial risk assessments: ethical considerations.

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  • 4105 Metro Parkway-Ste 103, Sterling Heights, MI 48310, USA. tcampbell3920@comcast.net


When assessing the recidivism risk of previously convicted sex offenders, the relevant ethical standards and practice guidelines obligate psychologists to acknowledge numerous limits related to their data and conclusions. For the actuarial instruments used in these assessments, the highest rates of classification accuracy are associated with greater specificity compared with sensitivity. Selecting cut-off scores to maximize sensitivity results in an inordinate frequency of false positive classifications. Attempts at maximizing specificity create an undesirable frequency of false negative classifications.Unfortunately, adjusted actuarial assessment cannot remedy these problems created by the sensitivity-specificity tradeoff. As an unstandardized procedure, the accuracy of adjusted actuarial assessment is severely limited. Consequently, civil proceedings for previously convicted sexual offenders rely on assessments of very limited accuracy. Undertaking these assessments, therefore, may be inconsistent with relevant ethical standards and practice guidelines.

Copyright 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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