Sex Offender Risk Assessment: A Cautionary Note Regarding Measures Attempting to Quantify Violence Risk

Amy E. Amenta, Sam Houston State University
Laura S. Guy, University of Massachusetts Medical School
John F. Edens, Southern Methodist University


In recent years, the field of forensic psychology has witnessed a proliferation of instruments designed to ascertain the degree of risk of sex offenders who may be released into the community and/or who may be subject to civil commitment. Although few would argue against the importance of basing evaluations and recommendations on empirical research, practitioners sometimes draw conclusions that go well beyond what reasonably can be inferred when using some of these new 'scientific' risk instruments. In this article, we review some of the limitations of current measures used in sex offender risk assessments and discuss how these limitations place constraints on what can and should be communicated regarding results from these instruments. We conclude with a review of ethical concerns that arise from a failure to acknowledge the limitations of these measures.