Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp916-sebu-469149 July 16, 2003 14:6 Style ﬁle version Nov 28th, 2002
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 15, No. 4, October 2003 (
Actuarial Risk Assessment: Commentary
on Berlin et al.
Stephen D. Hart
F. S. Berlin, N. W. Galbreath, B. Geary, and G. McGlone (this issue) have raised
some important questions regarding the use of actuarial risk assessment
instruments in sex offender civil commitment proceedings, also known as
sexually violent predator or SVP proceedings. Their primary point is that
interpreting the ﬁndings of existing actuarial risk assessment instruments is a
tricky business because it is not certain whether the extent to which probability
estimates derived from group data can be applied to individual cases. I agree
completely with Berlin et al. on this point, but disagree with them concerning
the extent to which probability estimates—and, therefore, actuarial instruments—
are legally relevant in SVP proceedings. I outline some potential problems with
respect to the legal admissibility of actuarial instruments, including their legal
KEY WORDS: actuarials; risk assessment; admissibility.
CLINICAL VERSUS ACTUARIAL REDUX
The paper by Berlin et al. occurs in context of the longstanding debate in
psychology concerning the relative merits of clinical (i.e., discretionary) versus
actuarial (i.e., formulaic) decision making. The debate has reared its ugly head
once again with respect to the assessment of risk for violence and sexual violence,
resulting in a major intellectual schism. The schism remains and shows signs of
growing, despite widespread consensus regarding the desirability of structured
decision making and despite well-reasoned and reasonable attempts at rapproche-
ment (e.g., Dvoskin & Heilbrun, 2001).
Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University,
8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation