Psychopathy and recidivism: A review


Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4


Psychopathy is defined by a constellation of interpersonal, affective and behavioural characteristics that should, in principle, be strongly related to risk for recidivism and violence. We reviewed the literature on The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised scales (PCL-R; Hare, 1980, 1991) and recidivism. We found that the PCL-R consistently was an important predictor across inmate samples and was consistently among the best predictors of recidivism. Average correlations between the PCL-R and recidivism, weighted by their degrees of freedom, were .27 for general recidivism, .27 for violent recidivism, and .23 for sexual recidivism. Relative risk statistics at one year indicated that psychopaths were approximately three times more likely to recidivate—or four times more likely to violently recidivate—than were non-psychopaths. The correlation between general recidivism and PCL-R Factor 2 (a measure of the social deviance facet of psychopathy) was stronger than the correlation between general recidivism and PCL-R Factor 1 (a measure of the interpersonal/affective facet of psychopathy). Both PCL-R factors contributed equally to the prediction of violent recidivism. The PCL-R routinely made a significant contribution towards predicting recidivism beyond that made by key demographic variables, criminal history, and personality disorder diagnoses. Across studies, PCL-R scores were as strongly associated with general recidivism, and were more strongly associated with violent recidivism, than were actuarial risk scales designed specifically to predict reoffending. Taken together, these findings indicate that the PCL-R should be considered a primary instrument for guiding clinical assessments of risk for criminal recidivism and dangerousness.