Constructing Dangerousness: Scientific, Legal and Policy Implications


161 pages
ISBN 0-919584-62-4




Reviewed by Sidney Allinson

Sidney Allinson is a Victoria-based communications consultant, Canadian
news correspondent for Britain’s The Army Quarterly and Defence, and
author of The Bantams: The Untold Story of World War I.


This book is based on a Federal government monograph with the previous subhead of “Policy Alternatives for Dangerous Offenders,” a line that epitomizes official attitudes in some quarters. However, by creating an interview guide, the authors of this new version have managed to introduce some wider insights in addition to a review of existing related scientific and legal literature. The study is intended to help establish the ability (or not) of mental health professionals to make “reliable” predictions of the future violent behaviour of people who have been named Dangerous Offenders. The average lay person may have some reservations about this premise, in light of the monthly news reports of yet another violent ex-convict committing rape or murder within days of being released on paroled as “rehabilitated.”

One cannot fault the dedication or sincerity of the quoted psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers, and criminologists — only the apparent naiveté of some of them. It would seem that no matter how many times they are disappointed in reality by the so-called cured Dangerous Offender reverting to type, their professional compassion and their intense empiric interest urge them to persevere in developing this science. The book may be useful in providing brief summaries of a variety of previous reports in the field, such as The Cocozza Competence Follow-Up Study, METFORS Studies, Mullen & Reinehr, and the Greenland-Macleod Study of Dangerous Sexual Offenders. The latter raises some daunting questions in mentioning, for instance, that there are significantly more dangerous sexual offenders in British Columbia than elsewhere in Canada. Greenland and Macleod state that psychiatrists in B.C. are induced to “march to a different and evidently more savage drummer.”

Legal implications are also covered, including the admissibility of psychiatric evidence and the role of expert witnesses. Recent developments in American cases are summarized, and the potential effects on the Canadian Charter of Rights are discussed. The authors are to be commended for resisting the temptation to rely only on published work, and for inviting so many forensic colleagues to contribute opinions. Most of all, they are to be saluted for sifting through well-meaning professional attitudes with enough resolution to make their refreshingly commonsense conclusion: “Until mental health professionals or other ‘experts’ can confidently and accurately predict short and long-term future dangerousness, options such as extending maximum determinate sentences or preventive detention imposed at the end of an offender’s original sentence should be based on past criminal and/or violent behaviour, and not on speculations about future actions.”


Webster, Christopher, Bernard Dickens, and Susan Addario, “Constructing Dangerousness: Scientific, Legal and Policy Implications,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed September 23, 2023,