Professional Judgement about Reoffending: Factorial survey

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Summary: Social workers in criminal justice provide reports to courts, including assessments of the likelihood of re-offending, which are used to assist in judicial decisions. This study used a factorial survey with 93 social workers employed as probation officers to measure factors influencing their judgement of the risk of re-offending. Findings: Analysis using regression and analysis of variance showed that judgements about the likelihood of re-offending were influenced by dynamic factors (such as substance misuse, support networks, level of responsibility taken for offending behaviour and cooperation with probation supervision) as well as more widely tested static risk factors (such as previous convictions and age). Application: This study highlights a range of dynamic factors that might inform review of criminal justice social work assessment tools which typically incorporate the better-tested static factors. The findings will contribute to current thinking in social work education which is starting to address issues of risk and decision making more explicitly in the curriculum at both qualifying and post-qualifying stages. The more nuanced assessment of factors considered by experienced criminal justice social workers will complement the evidence from more strongly evidenced static risk factors to inform teaching about professional judgements. As we seek to incorporate statistical knowledge into the human processes of social work assessment, Brunskwik’s Lens Model and other psycho-social rationality models – which bridge between analytic and descriptive models of human judgement – may be useful conceptualisations of the professional judgement process in social work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)797-816
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number6
Early online date13 May 2019
Publication statusPublished online - 13 May 2019


  • criminal justice
  • Decision making
  • professional judgement
  • psycho-social rationality
  • risk
  • social work
  • assessment
  • risk assessment
  • Social work
  • decision making


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