A classification tree approach to the development of actuarial violence risk assessment tools

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Actuarial Analysis; Adult; *Decision Trees; Female; Forensic Psychiatry; Humans; Logistic Models; Male; Risk Assessment; Violence




Since the 1970s, a wide body of research has suggested that the accuracy of clinical risk assessments of violence might be increased if clinicians used actuarial tools. Despite considerable progress in recent years in the development of such tools for violence risk assessment, they remain primarily research instruments, largely ignored in daily clinical practice. We argue that because most existing actuarial tools are based on a main effects regression approach, they do not adequately reflect the contingent nature of the clinical assessment processes. To enhance the use of actuarial violence risk assessment tools, we propose a classification tree rather than a main effects regression approach. In addition, we suggest that by employing two decision thresholds for identifying high- and low-risk cases--instead of the standard single threshold--the use of actuarial tools to make dichotomous risk classification decisions may be further enhanced. These claims are supported with empirical data from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study.


Law Hum Behav. 2000 Feb;24(1):83-100.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Law and human behavior

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Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID