How do psychologists assess the risk that a sex offender will strike again?
Through a combination of clinical judgment and statistics. A forensic psychologist interviews the convict, speaks with his family, and reviews police reports and prison records. The psychologist combines this research with actuarial assessments designed to predict whether an offender will commit another crime.
These actuarial tools have become common only in the past 10 years; today, most forensic psychologists recognize their value in predicting recidivism. Researchers design the assessments by examining sex offender databases. They look for the variables that best correlate with repeated criminal activity, then whittle these down to the most important factors.
The simplest tool for evaluating sex offenders is the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sex Offense Recidivism. The RRASOR (pronounced "razor") includes just four items. A sex offender gets one point for being under the age of 25 at the time of his release from prison, another if any of his victims were male, and a third if he wasn't related to his victims. He gets up to three more points depending on how many sex crimes he's been charged with.
The most dangerous offenders, then, are young adults who have committed multiple sex crimes against boys they've never met before. According to the RRASOR's table of probabilities, these six-point cases have more than a 73 percent chance of committing another crime within 10 years. . . .
Let's say that the RRASOR test seems like an accurate predictor, and in particular sex criminals (overwhelmingly male ones) who attacked a boy are found to be substantially likelier to reoffend than those who attacked a girl. May parole boards and sentencing judges take the test's result into account? (1) Would this be sex discrimination, on the theory that it discriminates based on the sex of the victim, though not of the offender? (2) Would it therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause? (Note that the Equal Protection Clause has been interpreted as presumptively barring discrimination based on sex, though generally not discrimination based on sexual orientation.)