U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Psychopathy and Young Offenders: Rates of Childhood Maltreatment

NCJ Number
Forum on Corrections Research Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: January 1995 Pages: 20-22
A. Forth; F. Tobin
Date Published
January 1995
3 pages
Using a sample of 95 male young offenders incarcerated in two youth detention facilities in Canada, this study assessed the prevalence of childhood maltreatment and investigated whether the onset of aggressive behavior in psychopaths was related to childhood maltreatment.
The offenders were assessed for psychopathy based on information gathered from interview and institutional files and the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (Youth Version). Several information sources were used to measure antisocial activity, including criminal records, a self-report delinquency scale, and a modified Conflict Tactics Scale. Preliminary analysis showed the average score on the psychopathy checklist was 26.4, about two points higher than typical results for male adult offender samples. Overall, the offenders exhibited fairly extensive abuse histories; 71.4 percent of psychopaths and 63.3 percent of nonpsychopaths reported having been seriously abused throughout their childhood. The most common abuse type was emotional abuse (49.5 percent), followed by physical abuse (35.8 percent), neglect (27.4 percent), and sexual abuse (16.8 percent). Experiencing childhood abuse or witnessing parental violence did not predict scores on the psychopathy checklist, although an association was observed between abuse and offending. The 61 offenders who experienced childhood abuse engaged in more violent and nonviolent offending than the 34 nonabused offenders. The majority of offenders had a current or a past charge for a violent offense, and 91.6 percent reported committing at least one violent offense. Significant differences, however, emerged in the frequency of antisocial behavior. Psychopathic offenders reported engaging in significantly more violent and nonviolent offending than nonpsychopathic offenders. Both psychopaths and nonpsychopaths displayed relatively high rates of aggression toward dating partners. Findings suggest that young offenders have a much higher rate of childhood maltreatment than the general population but that psychopathy is not associated with any specific traumatic childhood experience. 15 references and 1 figure