Use of the HCR-20 for violence risk assessment: views of clinicians working in a secure inpatient mental health setting

Geoffrey L. Dickens, Laura E. O'Shea

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    Purpose: To explore how raters combine constituent components of HCR-20 risk assessment for inpatient aggression, and how relevant they rate the tool for different diagnostic and demographic groups.

    Design/methodology/approach: A cross-sectional survey design was used. N=45 mental health clinicians working in a secure hospital responded to an online survey about their risk assessment practice.

    Findings: HCR-20 Historical and Clinical sub-scales were rated the most relevant to violence prediction but four of the five items rated most relevant were Historical items. A recent history of violence was rated more important for risk formulation than Historical and Risk management items, but not more important than Clinical items. While almost all respondents believed predictive accuracy would differ by gender, the tool was rated similarly in terms of its relevance for their client group by people working with men and women respectively.

    Research limitations/ implications: This was an exploratory survey and results should be verified using larger samples.

    Practical implications: Clinicians judge recent violence and Clinical items most important in inpatient violence risk assessment but may over-value historical factors. They believe that recent violent behaviour is important in risk formulation; however, while recent violence is an important predictor of future violence, the role it should play in SPJ schemes is poorly codified.

    Social implications: It is important that risk assessment is accurate in order to both protect the public and to protect patients from overly lengthy and restrictive detention.

    Originality/ value: Despite the vast number of studies examining the predictive validity of tools like HCR-20 very little research has examined the actual processes and decision-making behind formulation in clinical practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)130-138
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Forensic Practice
    Issue number2
    Early online date13 Mar 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2017


    • Risk assessment
    • Structured professional judgement
    • Violence
    • Gender
    • Survey


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