Evaluation of Risk Assessment Tools for Indigenous Individuals with a History of Sexual Crimes: A Response to Ewert case (2018)
There is now sufficient evidence to justify the use of Static-99R, but not Static-2002R, for assessing the likelihood of sexual recidivism among individuals of Indigenous heritage.
In Canada, structured risk assessment tools are used across all jurisdictions (federal, provincial, and territorial) to decide security classification, service intensity, parole release decisions, and the level of community supervision (Bourgon et al., 2018).
An ongoing issue with the assessment of recidivism risk is, however, the extent to which tools, developed and validated using predominantly White1 individuals, can be applied to other non-White groups. In Canada, cultural bias has mostly concerned individuals of Indigenous heritage, who are overrepresented at all stages of the criminal justice system (Haag et al., 2016).
This issue has received renewed attention with the Ewert v. Canada (2015, 2018) case, where the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that several well-known risk assessment tools (e.g., Static-99; Hanson and Thornton, 2000) had insufficient evidence to justify their use with justice-involved Indigenous peoples. Specifically, CSC was found to have violated s.24(1) of the CCRA because of lack of due diligence to ensure that these risk tools were valid for individuals of Indigenous heritage.
The main purpose of the current study was to examine how well two widely adopted tools for individuals with a history of sexual crimes - Static-99R and Static-2002R - estimate the recidivism risk for Indigenous individuals.
The current study comprised of Indigenous individuals (n = 653) and White individuals (n = 1,560) from five independent Canadian samples. All samples were adult males (18 years or older) who had been convicted of sexual crimes and were classified by an administrative process as having a high level of risk and/or need (i.e., referred to the National Flagging system, detained until the end of a federal sentence, or referred to a high-intensity treatment program).
Predictive accuracy of risk assessment tools involves two main components: discrimination (i.e., how large are the differences in the tool's scores between those who reoffend and those who do not reoffend) and calibration (i.e., how well the estimated recidivism probability from the tool's norms corresponds with the observed recidivism probability of this current sample).
The Indigenous study group was, on average, approximately 4 years younger (36 years) than the White study group (41 years). The Indigenous study group scored approximately a 1/2 point higher across the risk tools than the White study group (i.e., 4.8 versus 4.3 for Static-99R; 6.1 versus 5.7 for Static-2002R). The Indigenous study group was also found to have higher sexual recidivism rates than White study group (16.2% versus 11.9% for 5 years).
Static-99R was able to distinguish between recidivists and non-recidivists for both Indigenous (n = 375) and White study groups (n = 848; AUCs of .66 and .72, respectively; i.e., good discrimination) with a 10-year follow-up time. In addition, the estimated sexual recidivism probability from the Static-99R norms corresponded well with the observed sexual recidivism probability of the Indigenous study group in the current study. In other words, there was no evidence of cultural bias for the Static-99R.
Results, however, were not as positive for Static-2002R. The total scores were able to distinguish recidivists and non-recidivists for the White study group (n = 416), but did not for the Indigenous study group (n = 101; AUCs of .72 and .61, respectively) with a 10-year follow-up time. Overall, the Static-2002R norms overestimate sexual recidivism rates for Indigenous men.
Static-99R was one of the impugned measures identified in Ewert v. Canada (2015, 2018). Consistent with previous findings (e.g., Babchishin, Blais et al., 2012), the current study supports the use of Static-99R for Indigenous men in the criminal justice system. The available research does not support the use of Static-2002R. The findings for Static-2002R, however, were based on a small sample, and the negative conclusion could change as research accumulates.
Given that Indigenous men with a history of sexual crimes scored high on general criminality and low on sexual criminality, rehabilitation programs for Indigenous men who commit sexual crimes may benefit from an increased focus on general criminality (e.g., antisocial attitudes and behaviours).
In addition, treatment programming will be most effective when it takes into consideration the cultural values or norms of Indigenous peoples (e.g., spirituality) as well as socio-demographic characteristics that influence their response to treatment (e.g., low education and socioeconomic status, systemic oppression, distrust of criminal justice system; Gutierrez, Chadwick, & Wanamaker, 2018).
Given that risk assessment tools are used at every point of contact with the criminal justice system (e.g., policing, sentencing, rehabilitation programming, parole), continued efforts to validate risk assessment tools with Indigenous peoples remains a research priority.
- We use White rather than Caucasian as it is consistent with Statistics Canada and the linguistic guidelines from the American Psychological Association.
Lee, S. C., Hanson, R. K., & Blais, J. (2019). Evaluation of Risk Assessment Tools for Indigenous Individuals with a History of Sexual Crimes: A Response to Ewert case (2018). Public Safety Research Report. 2023-R002.
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