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Criminal Offending-Self-Esteem Nexus: Which Version of the Self-Esteem Theory Is Supported?

NCJ Number
Prison Journal Volume: 86 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2006 Pages: 344-363
Carrie B. Oser
Date Published
September 2006
20 pages
This study examined the link between criminal behavior and levels of self-esteem by determining the impact of demographic characteristics, criminal history, personality traits, and participation in prison programming on self-esteem levels of 134 inmates in 2 medium-security prisons.
The findings support previous research that has found a link between low self-esteem and criminal offending. Inmates incarcerated for violent offenses or drug offenses and those with extensive criminal histories were found to have significantly lower self-esteem. Findings give partial support to the hypothesis that inmates who score higher on the personality dimensions of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability (neuroticism), and openness to experience will have higher levels of self-esteem. The hypothesis that suggests a positive relationship between participation in prison programming and self-esteem was also partially supported. Greater participation in psychological counseling and educational programs was associated with higher levels of self-esteem during incarceration. These findings should assist in assessing the level of inmates' self-esteem during incarceration by showing how criminal history, personality traits, and prison programming are linked to level of self-esteem. Between 1997 and 1998, the inmate sample completed a self-administered survey that assessed various social-psychological concepts and other demographic characteristics during incarceration. The dependent variable was the social-psychological characteristics of self-esteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale was used to measure each inmate's perceived self-worth. The independent variables measured were demographic characteristics, criminal history, personality traits, and participation in prison programming. Chi-square and independent sample t tests were used to identify significant differences between male (n=76) and female inmates (n=58) across the study variables. 2 tables and 49 references