Communicating violence risk: judicial decision making in involuntary civil commitments

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University of Alabama Libraries

Beginning in the 1990s, researchers in the field of violence risk assessment recognized that even the most accurate and valid risk assessment could not assist fact-finders if violence risk was not communicated in a clear, precise, and complete manner (Monahan & Steadman, 1996; Schopp, 1996). Due to this growing attention to the importance of risk communication, four empirical studies have investigated how risk messages impact decisions and how decision-makers interpret risk messages (Kwartner, Lyons, & Boccaccini, 2006; Monahan et al., 2002; Slovic & Monahan, 1995; Slovic, Monahan, & MacGregor, 2000). The main purpose of the current study was to investigate judges' opinions regarding the probative value of risk communication messages in civil commitment proceedings. There were five types of risk communication messages that were investigated in this study: (a) description model; (b) prediction model [categorical format]; (c) prediction model [probabilistic format]; (d) prediction model [frequency format]; and (e) management model. Secondary purposes of this study were to investigate whether these risk messages influence judicial decisions and whether the attributes of role orientation, legal philosophy, and Fear of False Negatives (FFN) impact the decision-making process. A national sample of 403 judges completed the study, which produced an 18.28% response rate. Each participant was randomly selected to receive one of ten risk vignettes in which type of risk message and risk level were systematically varied. Participants answered three questions regarding the applicable risk vignette and completed demographic and judicial attribute questionnaires. This study found that the risk models (i.e., description, prediction, and management messages) were viewed as equally probative. However, within the risk prediction model, categorical messages were rated as highest in probative value. Results indicated that risk prediction messages, in general, led to stricter rulings than did the other risk models, but no one risk prediction format (i.e., categorical, probabilistic, or frequency) resulted in higher restrictiveness in judicial ruling. Finally, this study found that legal philosophy and FFN, but not role orientation, impacted the restrictiveness of judicial rulings. Limitations of this study and recommendations for future research are discussed.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Psychology, Law