Sexually violent predator risk assessments with the violence risk appraisal guide-revised: A shaky practice [2017]

Twenty-two jurisdictions in the United States permit the involuntary civil confinement of sexual offenders upon expiration of their criminal sentence and, if committed, these individuals face possible lifetime commitment. One of the legal requirements that psychologists must address in sexually violent predator evaluations is the likelihood that an individual will engage in dangerous sexual behavior and consideration of the probabilities for sexual recidivism contained in actuarial experience tables best address this inquiry. Clinicians find it increasingly difficult to affirm the likelihood threshold in the face of decreasing base rates and score-wise probability estimates for sexual recidivism reported in contemporary actuarial experience tables. The Violence Risk Appraisal Guide-Revised (VRAG-R) has been promoted to assess sexually violent predators because it has been presented as a more accurate predictor of sexual recidivism and the results more likely satisfy the legal standard of sexual dangerousness. This article conducts an in-depth analysis of the predictive and psychometric properties of the VRAG-R that are most relevant to the fit of the VRAG-R when addressing the sexual dangerousness standard proscribed by SVP laws. Recommendations for future research are offered to improve the fit of the VRAG-R to the legal inquiry of sexual dangerousness and implications for using the current iteration of the VRAG-R in forensic practice are discussed.

Brian R. Abbott

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 52, May–June 2017