Convicted sex offenders released from custody at the end of their criminal sentences pose a risk for re-offense. In many US states, Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) laws have been enacted that allow for the post-prison preventive detention of high risk sex offenders. SVP laws require the courts to make dispositions that protect the public from harm while at the same time respecting the civil rights of the offender. This book describes these SVP laws, their constitutionality, and aspects of their operation. Courts hear expert risk testimony based heavily on the results of actuarial risk assessment. Problems associated with this testimony include the lack of a theory of recidivism risk, bias due to human decision-making, and the insularity of scholarship and practice along developmental lines. The authors propose changes in legal standards, as well as a unified developmental model that treats sexual violence as an "evolving" condition, with roots traceable to childhood and paths that extend into adolescence and adulthood.
"What distinguishes the authors of Sexual Predators: Society, Risk, and the Law from most others is that they are highly respected scientists with expertise on the topic whose combined professional expereince spans decades. This represents one of the very few balanced and unbiased appraoches to this sensitive subject offered by two psychologists and a lawyer, all of whom have impressive credentials… This is an important book on a difficult and emotionally charged topic. It is pitched at a professional level… Overall, the coverage of problems in evaluating sexual predators and providing treatment while protecting society is very balanced, sound, and impartial. I know of no comporable resource that is timely, practical, and dispassionate. It should be required reading for any professional who works with sex offenders. I trust that its recommendations will serve as a foundation for future research and policy in the area." - Richard McAnulty, Univeristy of North Carolina - Charlotte, PsycCritiques
" the authors provide an excellent overview of the development of sexual offender laws, mandated treatment, and the concomitant ethical and legal problems, the development and deployment of tests and measures used to predict recidivism and dangerousness, and some informed ideas about the future.
There are many positive features of this book. The explications of the many laws and how far beyond the usual protections of citizenship they extend, and the contexts in which they developed, are truly well done and thought-provoking. The several chapters explaining statistical methods lead to the possibility of truly understanding them, which is necessary to understand the book. Throughout the book, anecdotes and case examples are timely and relevant…This book is not for everyone, but it does an excellent job of explaining current laws and metrics applied to sexual offenders, and it raises troubling questions about their continued incarceration long after their criminal sentences have expired. I learned a great deal." - Lloyd A. Wells, Metapsychology
"In Sexual Predators: Society, Risk and the Law, Robert Prentky, Howard Barbaree, and Eric Janus grapple with the most vexing legal and clinical issues raised by the most panic-inducing kind of criminal. Their theoretically rich and empirically rigorous analysis brings the science of decision making under uncertainty squarely to bear on how we attempt to control those who offend sexually. Both novice and experienced professionals will have an enormous amount to gain from engaging with the authors of this highly original work." John Monahan, PhD, Shannon Distinguished Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry, University of Virginia
"It is enormously difficult to consider sexual offending in a balanced way. In Sexual Predators: Society, Risk and the Law, three of the field’s most distinguished scholars have done so. Critical but fair, their discussion of relevant law, practice, and research is superb. This book should be read by every lawmaker, judge, attorney, and mental health professional involved in the post-sentence commitment of individuals classified as Sexually Violent Predators." Kirk Heilbrun, PhD, Drexel University.
"An impressive tour of the law, science and psychology of civil commitment of sexual offenders. This book is important to all those concerned with reducing the burden of sexual victimization. It is essential to those specifically working in civil commitment proceedings. This book will shape discussion for years to come." R. Karl Hanson, PhD, Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
"This book is absolutely must reading for anyone who cares about how sex offenders are identified and institutionalized. It is a breath of fresh air, and makes clear to the reader how counter-productive all of our policies – ostensibly adopted to protect us – are. It is a tour de force of writing and thought and originality. If only every judge and legislator would read it!" Michael L. Perlin, Esq., Professor Emeritus of Law , New York Law School.
"This is a scholarly, thoughtful, and provocative piece of work, rich in facts and history. I had planned a quick skim, but became rapidly engrossed. Though written from a North American perspective, its arguments and messages are far from parochial, and challenge those who carry out risk assessments in legal settings as well as those who use them. It shines a spotlight on the floor where law and science attempt to dance, clearly depicting how each sways to its own music, but noting that the tune really comes from the orchestra of politics, the media, and public opinion. While the aim is ‘not to question the risk-assessment enterprise, but . . . to improve it as a tool of the law’, it would be an obtuse reader who did not begin to question their own practice, their reliance on a science that is young and uncertain, and their belief that they can ‘get it right’ (or can even be sure of what ‘getting it right’ means). In their preface the authors say, "We appreciate that there are those who will take marked exception to our perspective, and we look forward to constructive dialogue". So do I." Don Grubin, MD, FRCPsych, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, (Hon) Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Found Trust.
"Prentky, Barbaree and Janus provide a unique, comprehensive, data-driven and compelling, yet remarkably even-handed, treatise on the history, public policy, and implementation of sex offender laws. They also offer a clear, rational and ethical roadmap for the future of sex offender evaluations and their use in the legal system. An invaluable tool for forensic evaluators, this extraordinary book should also be required reading for judges, lawyers, legislators, policymakers and anyone else concerned about the prevention of sexual offending." Charles Patrick Ewing, JD, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Past-President, American Board of Forensic Psychology Editor, Behavioral Sciences and the Law
"Robert Prentky, Howard Barbaree, and Eric Janus offer an essential analysis of the tangled morass of research dedicated to the difficult subject of sex offender recidivism. Against an environment of social panic, In Sexual Predators: Society, Risk and the Law constitutes a sober, interdisciplinary resource for any audience that provides needed perspective on appropriately assessing risk without succumbing to fear." Corey Rayburn Yung, JD, Professor of Law, University of Kansas School of Law
"Sexual Predators: Society, Risk and the Law is an in-depth, scholarly and pedagogic textbook about the complex relationships between SVP legislation for the preventive detention of high risk sexual offenders and mental health experts’ testimony and risk assessments.
Written by three outstanding and experienced academics, the book patiently explains North American SVP laws and thoroughly reviews theoretical and empirical work on human decision-making and the theory and practice of recidivism risk assessment. One chapter specifically addresses the heuristics and biases related to assessing risk under uncertain conditions.
The authors cautiously and convincingly build their cases for changes in legal standards, theory-driven risk assessment, and a developmental model of sexual violence as a problem evolving throughout life.
Together with practical examples from productive professional careers and illustrative analogies, this is a rich and thought-inspiring text with theoretically and empirically well-grounded advice for clinical practice.
The book should be greatly interesting and generally useful to advanced students and active professionals in forensic mental health, criminal justice and policy making." Niklas Långström, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and National Scientific Advisor, Swedish Prison and Probation Administration
"In Sexual Predators the authors, three of the top individuals in this field, paint a nuanced, comprehensive picture of the sex offender assessment field. Although their primary focus is on sexually violent predator cases, they explore issues relevant to all sex offender evaluations. The authors provide clear explanations for what could otherwise be daunting topics--for example, the social and legal context of specialized sex offender statutes, the history and current status of sex offender assessment instruments, the role of cognitive heuristics in shaping our decisions, and the mathematical underpinnings of prediction. They propose sensible recommendations for both evaluators and legislators. The reader will be rewarded with an increased depth of understanding of the major controversies in sex offender assessment and management." Philip H. Witt, PhD, ABPP, Past President - American Academy of Forensic Psychology
"The preventive detention of sex offenders is premised on risk of reoffense. This ambitious book explains how this risk is presently assessed, identifies systematic limitations, and offers well-supported directions for improvement. The book will prove invaluable for researchers, policy-makers, and participants in sex offender civil commitment and violence prediction generally." Fredrick Vars, JD, Associate Professor of Law, The University of Alabama School of Law
About the Authors
Robert A. Prentky is Professor of Psychology and Director of Forensic Training at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has been engaged in research and writing on sexual offenders for 35 years, evaluated or supervised the evaluation of 2,000+ sexual offenders, and has served as an expert witness for 20+ years. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (2003) and the Association for Psychological Science (2006).
Howard E. Barbaree is a psychologist and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and Vice President, Research and Academics, at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. He received the 2001 Significant Achievement Award from ATSA and the 2011 Don Andrews Career Contribution Award from the Canadian Psychological Association. He was Editor-in-Chief of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment from 2004 to 2010.
Eric S. Janus served as President and Dean of William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, MN. He is the author of Failure to Protect: America’s Sexual Predator Laws and the Rise of the Preventive State (Cornell U., 2006). He served as co-counsel in extended litigation challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota’s Sexually Dangerous Person Act, and provided invited media commentary on sex offender policy both nationally and regionally.