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About this book

The risk assessment process, the interventions and treatment commenced as a result of it and the theory behind it are central to the administration of criminal justice programmes around the world. Most youth and adult corrections departments routinely conduct risk assessments, which are then used to inform the nature and intensity of subsequent criminal justice interventions.

In this unique and important text, a team of the world's leading researchers in the field of criminal justice come together to provide a critique of this risk paradigm, and to provide practical guidance for professionals, students and academics on how to move to a more effective way of working with offenders.

Divided into three sections, the book provides coverage of topics such as:

• The development of risk assessment in criminal justice practice, and its advantages and disadvantages
• The significance of risk factor research in understanding and explaining juvenile delinquency – as well as the problems it creates
• The argument that the risk paradigm fails to accommodate diversity, further disadvantaging women, ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups
• The various ways in which real or imagined risk posed by offenders has been regulated under the risk paradigm, the powerful influence of media reporting,, and ways of moving 'beyond risk' to support successful reintegration of offenders
• Ways forward for criminal justice interventions that do not rely on risk, but focus rather on the vitally important aspects of social context, relationships and motivation.

With strong links between theory and practice, Beyond the Risk Paradigm in Criminal Justice provides a fresh new direction for criminal justice work.

Table of Contents


This book is part of a series of three books on the risk paradigm. It emerged from a conference held at the Monash University Centre in Prato, Italy, on risk in child protection, mental health and criminal justice. The conference discussed why it is appropriate at this time to challenge some of the assumptions underlying risk assessment and some of the practices currently used around the world. The three books engage in critical evaluation of the research and practice of risk assessment and its consequences – for adults and juveniles in an international context. Each addresses the authors’ concerns about the dominance of risk assessment. This volume focuses on risk in criminal justice. It addresses the issues relating to risk assessment and risk-driven interventions in criminal justice settings from both theoretical and practical perspectives. It aims to provide a critique of the risk paradigm and to provide practical guidance for professionals, academics and students regarding how to move to a more effective way of working with offenders
Chris Trotter, Gill McIvor, Fergus McNeill

The Risk Paradigm in Practice


1. The Rise of the Risk Paradigm in Criminal Justice

In many Western jurisdictions in the twenty-first century, risk has become a taken-for-granted part of the criminal justice field, both in policy and practice. But, although ideas associated with risk have a long history in both criminal justice and other areas of public administration (O’Malley, 2004), the centrality of risk thinking in contemporary criminal justice has more particular and more recent origins, in the latter part of the twentieth century. It is there that we can locate the conditions of emergence of current forms of risk thinking. In this chapter I will consider these conditions or foundations on which risk thinking in criminal justice has developed. To begin, the chapter reviews two macro-theoretical perspectives which have been proposed to explain the rise of risk in late modern societies and have been applied to various areas of public administration to explain its purchase and spread therein. These are the so-called risk society and governmentality perspectives. Next, the chapter examines the emergence of ideas about ‘crime as risk’ and actuarialism as a response to crime, most famously expounded in Feeley and Simon’s ‘new penology’ thesis in the early 1990s. It then goes on to critically examine the idea of a wholesale paradigm shift in criminal justice and consider the reasons why – and extent to which – risk has made inroads into criminal justice practice and thinking. It is argued that risk emerged at a time of crisis for criminal justice systems in many jurisdictions, appearing to pose solutions to problems of legitimation and of resourcing, and to offer rational means through which to recast policy and practice. The chapter concludes by considering the future trajectory of risk and asks the question: is there a future beyond the risk paradigm?
Gwen Robinson

2. Three Narratives of Risk: Corrections, Critique and Context

Attempts to measure and control risk have become a central concern in criminal justice. Critics have pointed out how the use of risk assessments can conflict with proportionality and have also argued that it can increase the general level of punitiveness and social disadvantage. Developers and supporters of risk assessment have pointed to advantages, such as the support it offers for rehabilitative measures. This chapter discusses the development of risk assessment in British criminal justice practice and argues that its consequences, both positive and negative, have depended not simply on the use of risk-related practices but also on the policies they have been deployed to serve. Criminologists, then, should not be surprised at the emergence of new risk-related concerns and practices in criminal justice (Kemshall, 2003). In the criminal justice system of England and Wales, we have seen the emergence of a general concern about risk, the progressive modification of sentencing practice to reflect perceptions of risk and the development of complex evidence-based risk assessment techniques which increasingly
Peter Raynor

The Consequences of the Risk Paradigm


3. Risk Assessment in Practice

This chapter is concerned with the one-to-one supervision of offenders on probation, parole or other community corrections orders and the extent to which working within the risk paradigm can successfully assist effective work in this area. After briefly defining the risk paradigm, the chapter considers a number of assumptions which underlie the concept: first, that medium- to high-risk offenders benefit more from supervision than medium- or low-risk offenders; second, that actuarial risk assessment profiles are successful in practice in predicting the likelihood of reoffending; and third, that focusing on criminogenic needs which are defined by a professional worker through risk assessment is more effective than working with issues or problems defined by the client. The literature relating to these assumptions is discussed, including the research which suggests that medium and low-risk offenders may benefit as much from good quality supervision as high-risk offenders, that actuarial risk profiles do not achieve high levels of prediction in practice and that when issues or problems are defined by the clients rather than the workers, clients may be more engaged in the supervision process and have better outcomes.
Chris Trotter

4. Taking the Risk out of Youth Justice

In the contemporary ‘risk society’ of rapid social change and globalization (cf. Beck, 1992), youth justice systems across the industrialized Western world have chosen to understand and respond to youth offending in terms of the ‘risk’ presented by young people – the risk of first-time offending, reoffending, conviction, reconviction, causing harm to self and others and so on. Risk has been explored by academics and represented by politicians and the mass media as an entirely negative phenomenon; as a harm or threat to be managed as opposed to a positive sensation or challenge for young people to pursue (cf. Katz, 1988). The reduction of risk has shaped and driven youth justice systems internationally, riding the wave of government anxieties over (alleged) growing youth crime rates and the ineffectiveness, inappropriateness and inefficiency of traditional youth justice responses such as welfare, justice and the rehabilitative ideal (see Haines and Case, in press). The perceived failures of traditional youth justice approaches and the growing influence of ‘risk society’ concerns have encouraged governments to utilize ‘risk’ as a predictor to enable the ‘evidence-based’ and defensible pre-emption and prevention of crime. The emergence of risk prediction has fed into a ‘new penology’ (Feeley and Simon, 1992) of actuarial justice based on assessing the statistical probabilities (risks) of future offending in aggregated populations in order to more effectively target resources and preventative activities. Actuarial justice has constituted a practical rather than a principled approach and provided for the accelerating, global ‘Risk Factor Research’ movement that provides the evidential foundation for risk-based youth justice.
Stephen Case, Kevin Haines

5. Justice, Risk and Diversity

While there have been broad concerns voiced about the centrality of risk in criminal justice and the adequacy and relevance of risk assessment technologies, there are particular concerns in relation to how concepts of risk and risk assessments engage with and accommodate diversity and how, more specifically, the risk paradigm further disadvantages marginalized groups. Drawing principally on gender and ethnicity, this chapter considers international empirical evidence and theoretical debates to demonstrate how risk and risk assessment have resulted in the over- classification and regulation of marginalized individuals and groups through the reconceptualization of ‘needs’ and structural disadvantages as ‘risks’. The chapter will critically discuss the limitations of the risk paradigm and its consequences in the context of diversity. It will consider the potential of alternative approaches – such as the development of genderinformed assessments – to offer a more nuanced assessment of risk but will conclude that fundamental problems associated with the concept of risk and its operational impact remain. Instead, it will be argued that by focusing on the risks faced by individuals rather than the risks posed by them, policy and practice might more effectively engage with processes of criminalization and desistance from crime.
Gill McIvor

6. Drugs, Mental Disorder and Risk

Many individuals who enter and move through the criminal justice system have substance misuse issues and/or mental disorders and are often portrayed as being high risk. It could be argued that substance misuse and mental disorder are in fact the norm for people who offend due to the high prevalence of both these conditions in prisoner populations. However, individuals who experience serious substance misuse and mental disorders present particular challenges for criminal justice systems and broader societal level responses to minimizing the risk of offending. In terms of community response and service delivery, these people can be framed as existing at the intersection of the criminal justice system and the health system, which in practice can mean challenges for effective service delivery across multiple policy, legislative and organizational arenas. Furthermore, people involved in the criminal justice system who have substance misuse and other mental disorders have multiple and complex needs and frequently have histories of homelessness, unemployment, breakdown of family or other supportive relationships, and poor physical health within an overall background of disadvantage.
David Rose

7. Programmes for Domestic Violence Perpetrators

Group-work programmes for domestic violence perpetrators emerged in the UK in the early 1990s (Scourfield, 1995; Gadd, 2004). As in the United States, their development encountered considerable resistance from feminist activists committed to supporting female victims/survivors who suffered at the hands of such men. Early, somewhat equivocal evaluations of North American programmes (e.g. Eisikovits and Edleson, 1989; Edleson and Grusznski, 1989) fuelled their anxieties. Concerns were expressed that they held out an (unrealistic) hope for women that men would change as a consequence of attending them, and that, whereas organizations like Women’s Aid had struggled to raise awareness of this problem (and the resources to address it), the dubious ‘promise’ of perpetrator programmes would overturn the nature of service provision, with refuge funding becoming subordinated to unproven interventions with violent, abusive men (Horley, 1990; Scourfield, 1995; Hague and Malos, 2005).
Dave Morran

8. Risk, Regulation and the Reintegration of Sexual Offenders

Media reporting of and public concern about sexual offending, particularly relating to children, affects and reflects political, policy and organizational responses to those convicted of such crimes. The development of regulatory policies on sexual offending has taken place within a highly emotive and overtly politicized public and policy discourse. This chapter charts the various ways in which the risks imagined or posed by sexual offenders have been conceptualized within public discourses and regulated and managed under the legislative and organizational ‘risk paradigm’. Ultimately, it argues that risk-based responses to sexual offending are at best uncertain in their effects and at worst counterproductive in that they often reduce the potential for successful reintegration. In seeking to look ‘beyond risk’, the chapter also explores the usefulness of restorative and related practices in supporting sex offender reintegration aimed at the primary and secondary levels of harm prevention.
Anne-Marie McAlinden

9. The Collateral Consequences of Risk

It is hard to imagine that there exists anywhere in the world a probation or parole or youth justice service that is not concerned with preventing reoffending by people under supervision. Both morally and pragmatically, that seems a perfectly good – perhaps an essential – aspiration for such services. It follows that being able to assess and manage risks of reoffending are crucial tasks for all such services. If services are not clear and ‘evidence based’ in their assessment and management of risks, they risk not only failing to protect the public but also intervening illegitimately and excessively in the lives of those subject to supervision. That said, this chapter aims to explore the adverse, unintended and collateral consequences of allowing risk assessment and management to become central and overriding preoccupations of offender supervision. The central argument is that when risk-focused discourses and practices become dominant, they can actively (if indirectly) undermine attempts to promote positive changes in the lives of people subject to supervision, and thus undermine the various social goods that may flow from such changes. At their worst, risk-based discourses and practices may paradoxically work to increase and even realize risks of reoffending.
Fergus McNeill

10. Probation, Risk and the Power of the Media

Media representation of offenders strongly influences community perceptions of offender-related risks as well as risk management practices within the criminal justice system. This chapter examines how weak, fragmented communities are both vulnerable to media moral panic and impede desistance strategies based on viable non-criminal social networks, with a resultant reinforcing of the focus on risk management and public protection. The influence of this on workers and practice within the criminal justice system will be examined, as well as broader consequences such as stigma and marginalization of offenders. The probation service often appears to be misunderstood and criticized by the public in terms of its role and its effectiveness. Public knowledge and confidence in the ability of probation staff to supervise offenders to minimize their risk has been identified in recent years as a problem. The obstacles faced by probation in terms of public confidence are clearly illustrated in Table 10.1 extracted from the British Crime Survey 2009 by Smith (2010, p. 18). Two things stand out. First, that police get much higher confidence ratings than other branches of the criminal justice system, and second that out of all areas of criminal justice, irrespective of levels of public confidence, only probation and the prison service did not improve their positions.
Wendy Fitzgibbon

Ways Forward


11. Putting Risk in its Place

Worldwide, risk assessment has emerged as an accepted ‘best practice’ for offender management and case planning in juvenile and criminal justice systems. In the United States, risk assessment emerged during the early twentieth century, where Ernest Burgess was credited with the first actuarial studies of risk assessment with incarcerated men in Illinois (1928, 1936). Nevertheless, risk assessment did not become firmly established as an integral part of the justice system until the development of the structured decision-making model (SDM; Baird, 1984; Howell, 2003). Since then, predictive validity has been the preoccupation of scholars, driven to establish that risk classification systems could in fact distribute justiceinvolved adolescents and adults into groups that varied in their risk of recidivism. To date, risk assessment instruments have been adopted worldwide, and studies involving risk assessment have been published in China (Zhang and Liu, 2014), Japan (Takahashi et al., 2013), and throughout Europe, Australia and North America (Singh et al., 2011).
Craig Schwalbe, Gina Vincent

12. Dynamic and Protective Factors in the Treatment of Offenders: A Reconceptualization

A promising approach to the explanation of crime and evidence-informed assessment and intervention, is to focus on factors that have been reliably linked to the onset and reoccurrence of offending. An additional requirement is that factors associated with offending are currently a focal point of theoretical and empirical research in the forensic and correctional domains. In fact, a cornerstone of evidence-based practice is that correctional interventions have been shown to reduce reoffending rates by virtue of their impact on the causes of crime. We suggest that work on dynamic risk factors meets these requirements and they can be reasonably construed (after some conceptual reworking) as proximate causal factors that are reflections of basic human needs. For example, the dynamic risk factor of intimacy deficits can be conceptualized as arising from the need of human beings to form close social relationships. In the case of intimacy failure, the person concerned lacks the necessary psychological and contextual resources to meet this need in prosocial and personally fulfilling ways. As a consequence of the absence of the required personal and social capabilities to establish and maintain intimate relationships, some individuals commit sexual offences (Ward, Polaschek and Beech, 2006). Other types of dynamic risk factors can also be theoretically traced back to motivational, cognitive and behavioural capacities such as the capacity for self-regulation (or agency), emotional identification and control, social learning, causal and inductive (generalizing) reasoning, group identification, status and resource seeking, and identity formation.
Tony Ward, Imogen McDonald

13. An Unfinished Alternative: Towards a Relational Paradigm

In recent years, studies of desistance from crime – and of their implications for criminal justice practice – have begun to challenge ‘the risk paradigm’. That challenge has been cast principally in terms of the ways in which desistance can be supported (and therefore risk of reoffending reduced), with research suggesting, for example, the critical importance of motivation, relationships and social contexts in the human development processes associated with leaving crime behind. However, more recently, desistance research has begun to raise questions about the end point or destination implied: what comes after desistance? This chapter argues that a focus on social relations, trust and reciprocity is essential – both practically and normatively – to processes of change and to supporting them. That focus in turn requires the development of co-productive approaches to practice that take more seriously the lived realities of the struggle for change, and the experiential expertise of those engaged in that struggle.
Beth Weaver, Allan Weaver

14. Changing Risks, Risking Change

There are a number of themes which emerge from the chapters of this book. First, the authors have a common conception of the risk paradigm. It refers to the practices which have developed in probation and institutional settings of using actuarial risk assessment instruments to assess levels of risk of offenders. These instruments then help workers to identify criminogenic needs, in other words, factors such as unemployment, criminal peer groups or poor family relationships which appear to be related to the offending behaviour of particular individuals. These criminogenic needs then become targets for intervention either through structured group programmes or individual discussion with a probation officer. Sometimes the offenders might be referred to another agency to address the risk factor (e.g. drug use, violent disposition, psychiatric problems). The theme that emerges most strongly through just about every chapter is that the risk paradigm, including both risk assessment and riskdriven interventions, has serious limitations as a method of dealing with young and adult offenders. This applies to institutional and communitybased interventions, although for the most part the book is concerned with probation and parole supervision and other community-based
Chris Trotter, Gill McIvor, Fergus McNeill
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