Risk Assessment of Sex Offenders

AuthorDaniel Montaldi
Risk Assessment of
Sex Offenders
Daniel Montaldi
You represent a person charged with a sex offense, and you are confronted
with a risk assessment that contains all sorts of terms like “rate” and “risk”
and “dangerousness.” The report compares actuarial rates and lifetime
rates. The report cites tests known as the Static-99 and the Static-99R.
The prosecutor’s expert has an alphabet soup of initials following his or her
name. And to top it all off, you know that as a lawyer representing some-
one charged with a sexually oriented offense, you are representing someone
almost everyone believes is Public Enemy Number One. What are you to do?
This chapter by Dr. Daniel Montaldi shows how to read a report and
interpret its terms. He details weaknesses and assumptions of risk assess-
ment tools. And he provides several lines of questioning to pursue during
cross-examination of the expert.
• • •
This discussion is devoted to some basic concepts and common mis-
conceptions about sex offenders and risk assessment. These issues rarely
receive specific treatment in the literature. Familiarity with these topics
will help attorneys make decisions about how to examine experts testify-
ing about risk.
More generally, the issues and misconceptions discussed in this chap-
ter relate to how sex offender risk assessments often exaggerate risk. This
commonly occurs when the evaluator mistakenly treats risk assessment
80 Representing People with Mental Disabilities
instruments as underestimating risk. Risk exaggeration results in increas-
ingly scarce resources being devoted to the management and treatment
of individuals who are actually low risk, leaving too few resources for
managing the truly dangerous. Inaccurate risk assessments also harm the
person assessed by adding stigma and further blocking access to hous-
ing, employment, and social support. Finally, excessive resources devoted
to the management of low-risk sex offenders are resources not available
for helping people with serious mental illness and nonsexual issues. The
needs of this latter population are overwhelming the legal and correc-
tional systems of many states. Let’s begin with some basic risk assessment
tools and concepts.
Static-99 and 99R
References are made throughout this discussion to a widely used actuarial
risk assessment instrument for sex offenders. The Static-99 line of instru-
ments is the most researched set of actuarial risk assessment tools for sex
offenders. The Static-99 and (now) the revised version (Static-99R) are
the primary actuarial devices used in Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) civil
commitment evaluations. The tool consists of a list of ten “risk factors” or
recidivism-related characteristics that are typically unchanging in nature
(static) and act as scoring criteria for the instrument. One such factor is
previous sex offense convictions. The factor is unchanging because previ-
ous convictions do not go away.
The original tool came out in 1999, thus the name. The tool was
normed on offenders released in the 1950s through the 1980s. Later
research using samples of offenders released more recently found dif-
ferent (and lower) rates, and also different rates for different samples of
offenders with the same score. Researchers also discovered that increasing
age has a much stronger impact on recidivism rates (lowering them) than
previously thought. The Static was revised (Static-99R) in light of these
findings to include more age cutoffs (for decreased score) and multiple
reference groups instead of just one. Each reference group has its own set
of (new sex-related charge or conviction) rates per score. The 99R went
into widespread use in 2009.
The Static-99 has one actuarial or “experience” table. The table lists
sex offense reconviction rates for samples of offenders with a given score
on the instrument. These are observed rates in that researchers followed
each sample after release to find out what proportion of the sample’s

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