Socio-contextual factors in violence risk assessment: Implications for violence risk management

Miriam Kissin (2006)

This study explored the relative degree with which forensic evaluators attend to social and contextual ( socio-contextual ) risk factors within the context of forensic mental health violence risk (FMH-VR) evaluations. The risk management assessment model is asserted as the most suitable for evaluating future violence potential of mentally ill offenders. Socio-contextual risk factors are conceptualized as salient components of the risk management model for the tasks of risk decision-making and communicating risk-related information to legal decision-makers. However, given the relative inattention socio-contextual factors have received in relevant literature to date, it was hypothesized that these risk factors garner less attention than other categories of risk factors, within the context of FMH-VR assessment. In addition, it was expected that the mediating variable of outpatient commitment legislation would increase attention to socio-contextual risk factors. Two hundred seventeen forensic psychologists completed an Internet-based research protocol comprised of questions regarding their attention to factors across socio-contextual, clinical, demographic, historical and non-validated risk indexes on risk decision-making and risk communication domains within the FMH-VR assessment process. The resulting scores were compared using a series of dependent t -tests. Scores on the risk factor indexes were then compared by way of a series of independent t -tests, across sample subgroups practicing in states with and without outpatient commitment statutes. Results on comparisons across risk factor indexes confirmed the hypothesis that socio-contextual risk factors are attended to significantly less than each of the other risk indexes, in both decision-making and communication tasks. These results are consistent with the noted inattention socio-contextual variables receive in the theoretical literature. Implications of these findings include an apparent discrepancy between the propagation of risk management assessment strategies in the literature and actual assessment practices that under-value socio-contextual information critical for effectively conducting risk management-oriented FMH-VR evaluations. Results from comparisons across outpatient commitment legislation contexts presented contradictory outcomes for the risk decision-making domain and non-significant outcomes on the risk communication domain. These findings imply that alternate factors may account for the evidenced group differences. Future research that includes comparisons across more precisely delineated legal contexts is also indicated.