Summary: Social workers and probation officers are frequently called upon to make judgements about the likelihood of re-offending. However, whilst the use of risk assessment instruments is now commonplace, the cognitive processes through which these judgements are made are rarely explicit. Findings: This study used the repertory grid method to elicit the constructs of judgements about re-offending of 15 experienced probation officers. Primary factors in their judgements were related to: (1) responsibility and risk taking behaviour; (2) criminal history; (3) self-awareness; and (4) stability. Personality characteristics, substance misuse and family dysfunction were also important. The findings are discussed in relation to two theoretical frameworks for understanding decision making: heuristics and biases and image theory, which focuses on values. Application: It is suggested that the design and implementation of assessment tools should be undertaken in the light of the constructs used in making professional judgements which inform the relevant decision making.
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- decision making
- criminal justice
- professional judgement
- repertory grid
- social work.