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The habitual female offender inside: How psychopathic traits predict chronic prison violence

Thomson, N.D.; Towl, G.; Centifanti, L.C.

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N.D. Thomson

L.C. Centifanti


Psychopathy is considered one of the best predictors of violence and prison misconducts and is arguably an important clinical construct in the correctional setting. However, we tested whether psychopathy can be used to predict misconducts in prison environments for women as has been done for men. To date, few studies exist that examine and validate this association in female offender samples. The present study included 182 ethnically diverse female offenders. The aim was to prospectively predict violent and nonviolent misconducts over a 9-month period using official records of prior violent criminal history (e.g., homicide, manslaughter, assault), and self-report measures of psychopathy, impulsivity, and empathy. Using negative binomial regression, we found that past violent criminal history, and callous and antisocial psychopathic traits were predictors of violent misconducts, whereas antisocial psychopathic traits and impulsivity best predicted nonviolent misconducts. Although empathy was negatively associated with psychopathy it was not a significant predictor of violent or nonviolent misconducts. Statistical models, which included impulsivity, were considered the most parsimonious at predicting misconducts. Our findings demonstrate how risk-factors found to be reliable in male offender samples, such as psychopathic traits, impulsivity, and past violent criminal history, generalize to female offenders for predicting nonviolent and violent misconducts. One notable difference is the importance of callous psychopathic traits when predicting chronic violent misconducts by female offenders. In sum, there are more similarities in psychopathy and impulsivity than differences in the prediction of misconducts among men and women.


Thomson, N., Towl, G., & Centifanti, L. (2016). The habitual female offender inside: How psychopathic traits predict chronic prison violence. Law and Human Behavior, 40(3), 257-269.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 25, 2015
Online Publication Date Feb 4, 2016
Publication Date Jun 1, 2016
Deposit Date Nov 26, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 10, 2016
Journal Law and Human Behavior
Print ISSN 0147-7307
Electronic ISSN 1573-661X
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 40
Issue 3
Pages 257-269


Accepted Journal Article (536 Kb)

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© 2016 APA, all rights reserved. This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

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