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The utility of the psychopathy checklist- screening version for predicting serious violent recidivism in a New Zealand offender sample

This study set out to evaluate the ability of the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL: SV) to predict criminal reoffending by New Zealand offenders convicted of previous serious violent offences. Psychopathy has been identified in a large number of overseas studies as a significant risk factor for general reoffending and in particular for violent reoffending. Using a retrospective-prospective design, a representative sample (N = 199; 48% of Māori descent) was selected from a database of male offenders serving sentences of seven years or more, the majority for violent crimes, who had been released into the community for a minimum of five years. Inmate institutional file information up to the time of their release was used to score the PCL: SV. Current offender criminal records were then accessed to establish if recidivism had occurred since release, and if so, the type of sentence imposed and the seriousness of the reoffending. In addition, PCL: SV scores were compared to two static actuarial measures of recidivism in use by the New Zealand Department of Corrections. The PCL: SV total, Factor 1, and Factor 2 scores correlated .50, .37, and .53, respectively with reconviction, and .49, .40, and .47 respectively with reimprisonment. Both discriminant function analysis (Wilkes Lambda = .79) and Receiver Operator Curve analysis (AUC = .80) confirmed the overall predictive accuracy of the PCL: SV for serious violent reoffending and its ability to add support to actuarial instruments based solely on static risk predictors. The unique nature of this contribution was supported by regression analysis identifying that PCL: SV Factor 1 scores, regarded as measuring core psychopathic traits, had a high negative correlation (r = -.41) with time to reimprisonment for violent offences. The final part of the study involved an investigation into the ‘false positive’ group (N = 32). Men with PCL: SV scores of 16 or greater but no further offending resulting in reimprisonment within five years of release. The study of this group was carried out to establish if indeed they were low risk, and to explore the strategies they used to reduce their risk. A number were found to have died or to have committed serious offending that was not originally detected (n = 5) reducing the false positive rate to 24% (sensitivity 76% and specificity of 24%). A structured interview was administered focused on post-release problems and strategies that also included a psychometric battery measuring static and dynamic risk variables, anger, personality pathology, and interpersonal and affective deficits. The results from those agreeing to be interviewed (n = 14) found the majority continued to experience regular thoughts about potential criminal acts and were still assessed at high recidivism risk, but the majority used strategies such as increased control over substance abuse, avoidance of criminal friends and family, and geographic isolation to reduce engaging in serious crime. In addition, ill health and the debilitating effects from their high-risk criminal lifestyle (accidents, substance abuse, and long sentences of imprisonment) had reduced their ability to engage in violent criminal activity. It was concluded that the PCL: SV has a high level of predictive validity in predicting serious reoffending for a New Zealand male offender population. The research has been successful in adding to the growing body of knowledge on the ability of the PCL: SV and the concept of psychopathy to predict serious recidivism by criminal populations. Evidence was found of a strong relation between PCL: SV Factor 1 scores and speed of violent reoffending supporting the special ability of the psychopathic personality construct to predict violent behaviour. The follow-up of the false positive group helped to account for part of the false positive decision error rate and has provided further support for the predictive accuracy of the PCL: SV and its inclusion in comprehensive risk assessment. In addition, insights into the beliefs and lifestyles of this parole group were gained that will assist in the development of effective correctional re-integrative initiatives and accurate parole decision-making.
Type of thesis
Wilson, N. J. (2003). The utility of the psychopathy checklist- screening version for predicting serious violent recidivism in a New Zealand offender sample (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13978
The University of Waikato
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