Develop a SART
skip navigation 

Sex Offender Management Professionals

Assess Risk

Before your SART can manage specific sex offenders in your community, team members need to know the offenders' likelihood of committing subsequent sex crimes, circumstances in which offenders are least likely to reoffend, and ways to reduce the likelihood of subsequent offenses.90 Risk assessment can help you get there.

Risk assessments are used to meet a wide range of legal, forensic, and clinical purposes. "Treatment professionals use them to develop treatment plans or evaluate progress. Probation and parole personnel use them to establish suitability for community supervision, case management and intervention. The courts apply them for purposes of civil commitment or criminal sentencing. Law enforcement has adopted them for profiling, investigation or designation of sex offender risk levels for sex offender registration and community notification."91

This section briefly reviews categories of risk factors and just a few of the many uses of risk assessment:

Risk Factor Categories

Risk factors may be grouped into two general categories:92

  • Historical, or static, factors cannot be altered; they include age, prior offense history, and age at first sex offense arrest or conviction. Static factors can be used to assess long-term recidivism potential. However, assessing an offender's record does not address fluctuating treatment needs or predict when subsequent offenses may occur.
  • Dynamic factors are changeable characteristics, circumstances, and attitudes. Examples include drug or alcohol use, poor attitude, and problems with intimacy. These factors may endure for months or years as stable factors (e.g., alcoholism) or could be present for a relatively short time as acute factors (e.g., intoxication, anger).

Sex Offender Registration

Some jurisdictions use risk assessment to determine how convicted sex abusers will register as sex offenders in the system. In New York, for example, convicted sex offenders are assigned a risk level and must register as a sex offender, among other requirements (e.g., annual address verification, provision of updated photographs).93

The sentencing court generally determines an offender's risk level: low, moderate, or high. If the offender is incarcerated, the court determines risk level just before the offender is released from custody. The risk level governs the amount and type of community notification authorized for a particular sex offender. The sentencing court also may assign one of three designations to sex offenders: sexual predator, sexually violent offender, or predicate sex offender. These designations, along with the risk level, govern how long the offender must register as a sex offender, from 20 years to life.


Clinical assessments are used to diagnose psychological or psychiatric problems and provide comprehensive treatment plans for sex offenders.94 Before treatment providers create treatment plans, they may want to assess the following risk factors:95

  • Intimacy deficits—problems in forming satisfying love relationships.
  • Negative peer influences—peers who support either deviant lifestyles or inadequate coping strategies.
  • Attitudes tolerant of sexual offending—the idea that some women like being raped or adult-child sex is harmless.
  • Problems with emotional/sexual self-regulation—feelings of sexual entitlement or the tendency to cope with negative affect through sexual thoughts or behavior.
  • General self-regulation—poor self-control and the inability to follow the conventions of society.

Treatment providers may also be interested in assessing risk factors that change quickly. These factors could include offenders' moods, substance abuse, anger, and lack of cooperation with community supervision. "Although negative mood does not predict long-term recidivism, an acute worsening of mood is associated with increased recidivism risk. An offender who is chronically upset is at no greater risk than an offender who is generally happy, but both of these types of offenders become at increased risk when their mood deteriorates."96

Treatment and Recidivism

Although there is a debate about the extent to which treatment is effective in reducing recidivism risk, it is clear that those offenders who fail to complete treatment are higher risk than offenders who complete treatment programs.

Source: R. Karl Hanson, 2000, Risk Assessment Booklet, Beaverton, OR: Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.