Management of violent behaviour in the correctional system using qualified risk assessments


Director of Research, Forensic Psychiatric Centre, Box 880, 851 24 Sundsvall, Sweden (e-mail:


Purpose. This study focused on whether institutional violence in a maximum-security correctional institution could be prevented using comprehensive risk assessments followed by adequate risk management. And, could this be shown by a decrease in risk factors for violence according to the HCR-20 Risk Assessment Scheme in the study group?

Methods. Offenders with a history of violent criminality were subject to real-life assessments using the HCR-20 Risk Assessment Scheme. The assessments were followed by discussions with members of staff, in which risk management strategies were designed. Thus, the members of staff were fully aware of every inmate's personality characteristics (e.g. psychiatric diagnoses), what risk factors for violence they displayed, and how best to manage those risk factors. With the aim of evaluating the possible effects of our interventions, approximately one third of the study group was reassessed after a mean of 12 months.

Results. The follow-up showed no significant decrease in important risk factors for violence in the study group. However, the number of violent incidents showed a remarkable decrease during the study period.

Conclusions. Not being able to reduce important risk factors for violence does not necessarily mean that one cannot decrease the risk for, or the incidence of, violence. This study indicates that proper and adequate risk management, using the best protective factors available, can reduce violence even though important risk factors cannot be decreased. The study also supports the theoretical assumption that changes in risk factors are more possible in some populations (e.g. general psychiatric) than in others (e.g. correctional) depending on the nature of the study group and the risk factors that are at hand (e.g. dynamic vs. static). This seems to be important to bear in mind when performing evaluation research using risk assessment instruments.