January 8, 2012

More developments on the sex offender front

Study finds problems with real-world reliability of Static-99

Evaluators differ almost half of the time in their scoring of the most widely used risk assessment instrument for sex offenders, the Static-99, according to a report in the current issue of Criminal Justice and Behavior. Even a one-point difference on the instrument can have substantial practical implications, both for individual sex offenders and for public policy. In by far the largest and most ecologically valid study of interrater agreement in Static-99 scoring, the research examined paired risk ratings for about 700 offenders in Texas and New Jersey. The findings call into question the typical practice of reporting only a single raw score, without providing confidence intervals that would take into account measurement error. The study, the latest in a line of similar research by Marcus Boccaccini, Daniel Murrie and colleagues, can be requested HERE.

California reining in SVP cowboys

Psychiatrist Allen Frances has more news coverage of a memorable state-sponsored training at which Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) evaluators were cautioned to be more prudent in their diagnostic practices. Ronald Mihordin, MD, JD, acting clinical director of the Department of Mental Health program, warned evaluators against cavalierly diagnosing men who have molested teenagers with “hebephilia” and rapists with “paraphilias not otherwise specified-nonconsent,” unofficial diagnoses not found in the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. California evaluators have come under fire in the past for billing upwards of $1 million per year conducting SVP evaluations of paroling prisoners. The PowerPoints of the 3-day training are now available online, at the DMH's website.

The neuroscience of sex offending

In preventive detention trials of sex offenders, forensic evaluators often testify about whether an offender lacks volitional control over his conduct. But how much do we really know about this? In the current issue of Aggression and Violent Behavior, forensic psychologist John Matthew Fabian explores the neuroscience literature on sex offending as it applies to civil commitment proceedings. The article can be viewed online, or requested from the author HERE.

Challenge to sex offender registry

Although the sex offender niche is by far the most partisan and contentious in forensic psychology, one thing that just about all informed professionals agree about is that sex offender registration laws do more harm than good. By permanently stigmatizing individuals, they hamper rehabilitation and reintegration; as Elizabeth Berenguer Megale of the Barry University School of Law explores in an essay in the Journal of Law and Social Deviance (full-text available HERE), they lead to a form of “social death.” Now, the California Coalition on Sexual Offending (CCOSO) and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) have filed a joint amicus brief in a challenge to California's "Jessica's Law," which bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park. The amicus contends that the restriction is punishment without any rational purpose, in that it does not enhance public safely or deter future criminality. The challenge was brought by Steven Lloyd Mosley. After a jury found Mosley guilty of misdemeanor assault, a non-registerable offense, the sentencing judge ordered him to register anyway, ruling that the assault was sexually motivated. The 4th District Court of Appeal granted Mosley’s appeal, and the California Department of Corrections has appealed to the state's supreme court. We'll have to wait and see whether the high court will tackle the issue of registration laws directly, or will sidestep with a narrow, technical ruling.