Racial disparities in risk assessment: measurement, detection and potential solutions

Dr Benjamin Spivak1, Dr  Stephane  Shepherd1, Linda  Ashford1, Samantha Venner1

1Swinburne University Of Technology

Risk assessment instruments are employed in various sectors of the criminal justice system to measure the probability of recidivism and to guide decision making around treatment, detention and sentencing. In recent years, several high profile journalistic exposes and academic studies have identified considerable racial disparities in performance using these instruments. This symposium will examine the issues of racial disparities through two separate programmes of research. The first examines racial disparity through a statistical lens, reporting on a recent study which sought to identify and then reduce racial disparities using the LS-RNR in an Australian correctional context. The second programme reports two studies which sought to examine the existence of rater bias in risk assessment instruments and the suitability of risk assessment instruments for use with individuals from three different cultural minority backgrounds. This symposium will discuss implications for clinical practice and for future research examining this issue.


Dr Spivak is a lecturer at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology. He conducts research on the topics of jury and judicial decision-making, violence risk assessment, cross-cultural disparities in crime and health outcomes, psychometrics and research methodology

Dr. Stephane Shepherd is Associate Professor in Forensic Psychology and an Australian Research Council DECRA fellow at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology. He completed his Undergraduate degree in Criminology, Masters in Communications and PhD in Forensic Psychology, all at Monash University. Dr. Shepherd’s research explores cross-cultural issues at the intersection of psychology and the criminal justice system. He has developed an international body of research and writing on risk and protective factors for violence and the cultural and mental health needs of individuals who are justice-involved.

Linda Ashford is a current PhD student at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University with a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours) from Deakin University. She works as a research assistant at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural science and has been involved in research projects surrounding the creation and validation of psychological assessments as a research and development coordinator in the private sector. Her research interests include violence risk assessments, statistical fairness, and predictive analytics.

Samantha Venner is a postgraduate student at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology, studying the Doctor of Psychology (Clinical and Forensic) degree. She previously completed a Bachelor of Law (honours) and Bachelor of Arts (psychology) at Monash University, before moving to Swinburne in 2019 for psychology honours, from which she graduated dux and was awarded the Swinburne University Medal for most outstanding undergraduate student. Samantha’s research focuses on cross-cultural issues in forensic risk assessment, under supervision of Dr Stephane Shepherd and Dr Diane Sivasubramaniam.