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Assessment of Moral Judgment and Empathy in Young Sex Offenders: A Comparison of Clinical Judgment and Test Results

Eveline van Vugt, Jessica Asscher, Jan Hendriks, Geert Jan Stams, Catrien Bijleveld & Peter van der Laan.

International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology; October 2012; vol. 56, no. 7, 986-996.

 

Abstract

Professional decision making in forensic clinical practice may have lifelong consequences for offenders. Although information on moral development is important for prediction of reoffending and referral to adequate treatment, conclusions regarding moral development are still largely based on unstructured clinical judgment instead of assessment instruments. For this study, the authors examined to what extent unstructured clinical judgment of both moral judgment and victim empathy concurred with test results in a group of young sex offenders. Moral judgment was measured with the Sociomoral Reflection Measure–Short Form (SRM-SF), whereas victim empathy was measured with an extended version of the Basic Empathy Scale (BES). No significant associations were found between clinical judgment of moral judgment and the mean scores on the SRM-SF. However, clinical judgment of victim empathy was significantly associated with victim empathy on the Victim Empathy Scale but not consistently in the expected direction. Juvenile sex offenders, who were judged by clinicians to show little victim empathy, displayed lower mean scores on the Victim Empathy Scale than juvenile sex offenders who were evaluated to lack victim empathy or to have intact victim empathy. This study showed unstructured clinical judgment of moral development not to concur with test results. To improve decision-making processes regarding moral development, clinicians are advised to rely on instruments that assess moral development to inform clinical judgment. Further research is needed to examine which predictions are more accurate and to establish the predictive validity of moral development evaluations.

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