Opining on the concept of dangerousness, Michel Foucault once characterized psychiatry as an endeavor that attempts “to rationalize the confused where madness and crime mix”. In his view, psychiatry gained ‘prestige’ because it developed a framework of a medical discipline concerned with “a reaction to the dangers inherent to the social body”. There is some truth to Foucault’s observations, given the intersection between psychiatry and the law in violence risk assessments. In the courtroom, the clinician’s role has become an “assessment-focused enterprise”, particularly in violence risk assessments conducted for offenders branded as “terrorists”.
The reliability of violence risk assessment tools is the subject of contention in psychiatric research. However, their utility in keeping assessors focused on the most important risk factors, rather than being distracted by “risk”, seems to be less contentious. This paper assesses literature on “existing approaches to the risk assessment of common violence”5, and asks whether they can be applied to ascertain future levels of violence (i.e., risk) in convicted extremists. To be clear, this analysis is exclusively focused on risk assessment at the post-conviction stage. Where possible, I refer to these offenders as “extremists” rather than “terrorists”.