Does the PCL-R test have a place in the criminal justice system? Henry Richards thinks so:
PCL-R scores can help predict how an offender might behave in a variety of situations. They’re useful to crime scene analysts who create profiles of perpetrators. Test scores can also help predict how someone might perform on conditional release (bail, probation, parole). And scores can guide choices about the type of institutional or community supervision that would work best for a particular offender and the likelihood that the offender will complete a rehabilitation program.
The test compares offenders with the successes and failures of other offenders. Among offenders with a previous violent offense, those with high PCL-R scores present the greatest risk for further violence. But the test can also can supply relevant information specific to an individual. For example, community supervision can start off on a firm footing with discussion of an offender’s history of pathological lying, one of the items rated on the PCL-R.
Of course, all of our sources of information have costs, and none are infallible. The PCL-R is sometimes introduced, with prejudicial intention, in contexts where it has dubious relevance or moral justification — such as in death penalty considerations. But such misuses should not negate its benefits.
The success indicators for offenders on conditional release — such as rates of employment and recidivism, the presence of family support — offer the corrections system a reason for optimism, but only when you remove psychopaths from the analysis. Because psychopaths don’t respond favorably to interventions or opportunities, they perform poorly on all these outcome measures relative to other offenders. And psychopaths typically have a spoiler effect on treatment programs — demoralizing others with their lies, hidden rule-breaking and readiness to exploit vulnerabilities.
Thanks to tools like the PCL-R, instead of wasting limited resources on a few bad apples, the justice system can focus those resources on the majority of offenders — those who can profit from a second chance and are, more often than not, motivated to change.
I know that’s a longish excerpt, but I think it’s important to see the reasoning behind the use of the test. Psychopaths do not respond as well to many of the conditions of release, and so identifying them can help in creating an individualized plan for the circumstances of each offender.
However, the creator of the PCL-R test isn’t so sure it is as effective as its proponents claim. One problem is that “psychologists hired by the prosecution consistently scored higher than psychologists employed by the defense”. The argument here is that maybe the test doesn’t work to identify psychopaths in the criminal justice system environment.
So why did I title this “Another Minority Report”? There’s a normative discussion going on here that’s leaving out an important element, isn’t there? Our “scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Should the criminal justice system be based on picking and choosing who it considers the biggest threats to society? Or should all criminal offenses be punished the same, regardless of the identity of the offender? Not all psychopaths commit crimes. Should society punish them all anyways? Should being a psychopath be a status offense? If we do single out psychopaths for special treatment, are there other statuses that should be singled out?