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An Examination of Psychopathy, Self-Reported Treatment Change, and Recidivism in a Sample of Federally Incarcerated Men Who Have Sexually Offended



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The treatment of individuals high in psychopathic traits has been a topic of considerable debate. There is growing evidence that when provided with appropriate services and assessed using outcome variables relevant to offender rehabilitation, individuals with psychopathy are amenable to change. The current research explored the extent to which individuals with prominent psychopathic traits exhibited changes on various self-report measures, administered in real time during a high intensity sexual offending treatment program. The primary goal of the research was to expand the literature’s knowledge of the associations between psychopathy and treatment change, including whether changes are risk-relevant (i.e., linked to recidivism). In Manuscript 1, treatment change was assessed using a battery of instruments measuring various psychological and risk-relevant constructs relevant to sexual offending. A pattern of conceptually meaningful associations emerged between scale scores and psychopathy facets, with scales reflective of cognitive and behavioural aspects of anger and hostility demonstrating the most consistent relationships with psychopathy. Treatment change was differentially associated with the various psychopathy facets. Notably, antisocial and interpersonal scores were linked to positive treatment change while affective and lifestyle scores were generally associated with reduced treatment change. Changes in self-reported hostility and aggression were associated with reduced post-treatment recidivism rates, however, only endorsement of physical violence emerged as uniquely predictive after controlling for psychopathy. Manuscript 2 focused on post-treatment changes in general criminal attitudes, measured using the Criminal Sentiments Scale (CSS). Study findings revealed overall greater endorsement of criminal attitudes among those higher in psychopathic traits, with the strongest and most consistent associations found between CSS scores and factor 2 (i.e., lifestyle and antisocial) psychopathy traits. While the highest and fastest recidivism rates (violent and general) were observed among individuals high in both psychopathic traits and criminal attitudes, positive treatment change in criminal attitudes was associated with reductions in post-treatment recidivism, particularly for violent outcomes. Positive treatment change remained predictive even after controlling for individual psychopathy scores. Taken together, the studies are suggestive of positive and risk-relevant treatment change among individuals high in psychopathic traits and support a multifaceted approach to treatment.



psychopathy, sexual offending, offender treatment, risk-need-responsivity



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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