The Increasing Influence of Risk Assessment on Forensic Patient Review Board Decisions

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Abstract

Previous studies of decisions about forensic patients’ placement in secure hospitals indicate some changes over time in the use of empirically supported risk factors. Our aim was to investigate whether, in more recent cases, risk assessment instruments were cited by a forensic patient review board or by the clinicians who made recommendations to the board and whether there was evidence of an association between risk assessment results and either dispositions or recommendations. Among review board hearings held in 2009–2012 pertaining to 63 different maximum security patients found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder in Ontario, Canada, dispositions were most strongly associated with psychiatrists’ testimony, consistent with previous studies. However, dispositions were associated with the scores on the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG), such that transferred patients had a lower risk of violent recidivism than detained patients. An association between clinical opinions and risk assessment results was also evident and significantly larger than in previous research. There was no evidence that risk assessment was cited selectively in higher risk cases or when scores were concordant with the review board decision. This research may provide a baseline for studies of the effect of 2014 legislation introducing a high-risk designation for forensic patients in Canada. We recommend further efforts to measure the effect of nonpharmacological treatment participation and in-hospital security decisions on forensic decision-making.

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