Violence and Crime

A good deal of my research, and that of my students, focuses on understanding violence, and assessing its risk among forensic and civil psychiatric patients, and criminal offenders. We are interested in learning more about the relationship between mental disorder and violence, and that factors that place some people with mental disorder at high risk for violence. Toward that end, studies are being conducted within samples of criminal offenders and civil psychiatric patients that involve comprehensive pre-release assessments, as well as community follow-ups. The goal is to measure and understand the role that a variety of violence risk factors play in elevating persons’ risk for violence in the future.

Another theme that cuts across research studies is ‘dynamic risk,’ or understanding which risk factors are more, or less, changeable. Such factors are most likely to be promising factors to focus upon in risk reduction or management efforts.

In addition, we conduct research on the predictive properties of violence risk assessment instruments. This includes the HCR-20 violence risk assessment scheme, Version 2 (Webster et al., 1997) and Version 3 (Douglas et al., 2013). The revision of the HCR-20 was completed in 2013 (see links throughout this website for more information).

As of early 2014, lab members have conducted over 900 evaluations of approximately 250 psychiatric patients and criminal offenders in a prospective, repeated measures study that addresses these topics, as well as those listed below. We have also collected data on these topics from 400 community-dwelling adults and 300 university students. These various projects have supported numerous publications, conference presentations, and theses/dissertations at the undergraduate, Masters, and PhD level.

More generally, I have been involved in the development of a model of violence risk assessment called “Structured Professional Judgment,” and specific instruments within the SPJ model, such as the HCR-20.

Victimization, Suicide, and Self-Harm

More recently, my research has branched out to include not only risk of violence to others, but risk of self-harm, suicide, and being the victim of violence. All such adverse outcomes (including violence) are over-represented among persons with mental illnesses, and they share common risk factors. However, little is known exactly about what those common (and unique) risk factors are. Our goal is to disentangle what these common and unique risks are. In addition, we are interested in the concept of ‘dynamic risk,’ as explained above, in this context.

Finally, some of my students and I are interested in the decision-making element to violence risk assessment. That is, what elements of a decision-making system facilitate good quality judgments about the risk for violence? This research is being conducted within a “Structured Professional Judgment” framework, and is informed by principles from the decision-making literature.


The construct of psychopathy is included in most of my research studies on violence. Psychopathy is a personality disorder with similarities to Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). However, it includes additional emotional and interpersonal dysfunction, such as callousness, guiltlessness, and remorselessness.

Some of the specific research questions that I have, or am, addressing in my research on psychopathy include: (a) the role of psychopathy in the assessment of risk for violence among offenders, forensic psychiatric patients, civil psychiatric patients, and juvenile offenders; (b) the psychometric properties of various measures of psychopathy; (c) the factorial structure of measures of psychopathy, and their (in)variance across race, gender, and culture; and (d) the susceptibility of self-report measures of psychopathy to induced mood.

Forensic Assessment

I have a broad interest in promoting high-quality psychological assessment within forensic and correctional settings. Some of my research reflects this. In particular, I have been interested in evaluating the validity and utility of a broad-band measure of personality and psychopathology called the Personality Assessment Inventory. My students and I have published or presented on numerous psychological evaluation instruments used within civil psychiatric, forensic psychiatric, criminal offender or youth justice settings.

Law and Psychology

My overarching interest is the intersection between law and psychology. Much of this issue involves thinking about what the appropriate role of psychology and other social sciences is within law. How can psychology improve legal decision-making? How can social science help judges, or parole boards, reach decisions? What are the limits to the appropriate use of social science within legal contexts?