Bringing psychopathy into research on offending trajectories: Understanding the construct’s role as a barrier to desistance

Date created: 
Developmental criminology
Life course

Traditional longitudinal studies in criminology are not well-equipped to address questions concerning differences between chronic offenders and desisters because (a) these studies sampled from community-based populations where chronic offenders are rarely found and (b) these studies did not include the types of risk factors expected to differentiate chronic offenders from desisters. Indeed, there is a noted lack of research on the offending patterns of youth at the ‘deep end’ of the criminal justice system (Mulvey et al., 2004), and this type of sample is especially critical for studying desistance. Specific attention was given to the manner in which symptoms of psychopathy could be integrated into existing theories of desistance. To facilitate this line of analysis, data from the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study (n = 326) were used to perform three separate analyses using semi-parametric group based modeling (with exposure time accounted for). The three analyses captured chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories from age 12 to 28. The characteristics of the individuals associated with these trajectories were described in order to better understand risk and protective factors associated with persistence and desistance. Specific attention was given to whether symptoms of psychopathy measured using the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV) were informative of trajectory group association in each of the chronic, serious, and violent offending analyses. Theoretical and policy implications for the desistance process during emerging adulthood are discussed. There is a specific need for continued research using repeated measures of risk and protective factors within samples of high-risk offenders. The substance use literature’s movement from abstinence-only treatment strategies to harm-reduction strategies may provide some helpful guidelines for criminal justice system practitioners distinguishing between high rate offenders recidivating as part of an escalation in the severity of their criminal career versus high rate offenders recidivating as part of a relapse in the desistance process.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Raymond Corrado
Patrick Lussier
Arts & Social Sciences: School of Criminology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.