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Reoffending rates under the microscope

ECU research has helped reduce rates of reoffending.

Determining how likely a criminal is to reoffend, particularly when it comes to violent and sexual acts, is a demanding and highly sensitive science.

In 2002, Edith Cowan University psychology researcher Professor Alfred Allan partnered with WA Department of Justice colleague Deborah Dawson to establish a pioneering longitudinal database of sexual offenders.

In doing so, they discovered that widely used reoffending prediction methods were not reliable or valid when applied to local populations, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Their research led to the development of the 3-Predictor Method, which is now utilised widely in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland in the management of Aboriginal male sexual offenders.

It is so-called because it measures three key factors that best predict sexual re-offending within this group: unrealistic long-term goals, unfeasible release plans, and poor coping skills prior to release.

Engaging communities

At the beginning of the research, ECU established an Indigenous Advisory Committee to enable a deep understanding of the issues that Indigenous people face, such as racism and high incarceration rates. Indigenous researchers have played a key role in this project to date.

A volunteer student program was also developed to build the skills of psychology students and early career researchers from all of Perth’s universities.

Research’s national influence

The research has had impact in courts across Australia, through expert witnesses referring to the 3-Predictor Model in preventative detention applications.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has also referred directly to the model’s efficacy.

The influence of the 3-Predictor Model includes informing experts who conduct assessments for courts in dangerous sex offender cases and decisions by the WA Appeal Court in refusing to accept previous evidence-based tools.

“The majority of these instruments were developed using populations of sex offenders from other countries and have not been validated for use with Indigenous sex offenders in Australia,” said Dr Caroline Spiranovic, Senior Research Fellow from the Faculty of Law at the University of Tasmania.

“The ground-breaking work by Allan and Dawson in developing and validating an instrument specifically to predict risk of recidivism in Australian Indigenous offenders is therefore significant, notably the items found to best predict risk in Indigenous sex offenders in Australia are notably different to the items contained in many of the mainstream instruments currently used in Australia to predict risk of recidivism. Members of Indigenous communities in Australia have endorsed the use of this instrument.”

Continually improving outcomes

To allow the direct translation of the research findings to policy, Professor Allan to act as a consultant for the WA Department of Justice.

Through this connection, the original research has expanded to become a national study into the risk analysis of specialised sexual offender assessments.

The research has proven exceptionally valuable to the Department of Justice, given it has secured hard copy data that was previously at risk of being lost.

Importantly, the longitudinal database allows ECU researchers to trace back offenders’ criminal records, and capture new offences. It will also facilitate future sex offender studies.

For further information contact ECU Research.


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