Limitations of diagnostic precision and predictive utility in the individual case: a challenge for forensic practice

Law Hum Behav. 2010 Aug;34(4):259-74. doi: 10.1007/s10979-009-9176-x. Epub 2009 Mar 11.


Knowledge of group tendencies may not assist accurate predictions in the individual case. This has importance for forensic decision making and for the assessment tools routinely applied in forensic evaluations. In this article, we applied Monte Carlo methods to examine diagnostic agreement with different levels of inter-rater agreement given the distributional characteristics of PCL-R scores. Diagnostic agreement and score agreement were substantially less than expected. In addition, we examined the confidence intervals associated with individual predictions of violent recidivism. On the basis of empirical findings, statistical theory, and logic, we conclude that predictions of future offending cannot be achieved in the individual case with any degree of confidence. We discuss the problems identified in relation to the PCL-R in terms of the broader relevance to all instruments used in forensic decision making.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Prisoners*
  • Psychological Tests*
  • Reproducibility of Results