Risk assessments used to justify Australia’s post-sentence terrorism detentions need urgent research, report finds

A new report has warned risk assessment tools being used to justify extraordinary post-sentence terror detention powers require urgent, independent research and validation.

The Australian Institute of Criminology on Friday released a report prepared for the department of home affairs on the use of four risk assessment tools, which are designed to gauge the threat posed by radicalised offenders and, in some cases, justify them being held behind bars or closely supervised after their sentences have been served.

The AIC report found there was a “relative lack of research into the efficacy of these tools”, something it found was a “barrier to their use and undermines confidence in expert assessments that rely on these tools”.

“Further independent research and validation studies are urgently required,” the report said.

The report examined four tools: the violent extremism risk assessment version 2 revised (Vera-2R), the terrorist radicalisation assessment protocol-18 (Trap-18), the radar and the extremist risk guide 22+. Each tool focusses on assessing slightly different aspects of a person’s likelihood to radicalise and attempts to measure the risk of different outcomes among different types of individuals.

It found two tools, Vera-2R and the ERG 22+, were the most suitable of the four and that the Vera-2R tool can continue to be used to justify post-detention orders, but must be “subjected to further scrutiny and, in particular, validation”.

The report recommended that they only be used alongside a “clear acknowledgement and communication that risk assessment tools in themselves are not predictive of the likelihood of violent extremism”.

“In reviewing the literature on violent extremism risk assessment, and undertaking interviews with experts in the field, it was immediately clear that there is a paucity of information on the efficacy of these risk assessments,” the AIC report said. “While some, such as the TRAP-18, have been the subject of a larger body of research, there is exceptionally little research supporting the validity of others, including the VERA-2R.

“Pivotally, where research is undertaken into these risk assessment tools, it has almost universally been authored by the creators of those tools, or the colleagues of the tool developers.”

“This presents a significant issue for the field of violent extremism risk assessment. Further, there is little evidence that these tools are accurate.”

The report said the Vera-2R tool remains the most suitable risk assessment tool to use when seeking post-sentence detention or supervision of individuals. But it said “it should continue to be used, in conjunction with other suitable tools as appropriate, but it must be subjected to further scrutiny and, in particular, validation”.

The AIC report follows a more exhaustive study, commissioned by the Morrison government, which examined the reliability, validity and equity of risk assessment tools, conducted by academics Dr Emily Corner and Dr Helen Taylor. That report similarly cautioned government about the lack of evidence for their use.

“The lack of evidence underpinning both instruments has potentially serious implications for their validity and reliability,” the report found.

“Without a strong theoretical and empirical basis for factor inclusion, it is not reasonable to anticipate that the instruments are able to predict their specified risk with anything other than chance.”

The government received the report, known as the Corner report, in May 2020, but did not disclose it to defendants who were being targeted with post-sentence orders.

The commonwealth used the powers 14 times after receiving the Corner report. It also failed to disclose the report to the New South Wales government, which was also using the risk assessment tools to help justify post-sentence orders.

The lack of disclosure of the report has prompted an angry response from lawyers representing those targeted with post-sentence orders.

The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor earlier this year criticised the lack of disclosure while recommending an end to Australia’s continuing detention order powers.

Related Links

Back to index