An examination of the relationship between psychopathy and recidivism in juvenile sex offenders

Charity Wijetunga, Fordham University


Clinicians often are called upon to assess juvenile sex offenders’ (JSOs) recidivism risk before placement and treatment decisions are made. These risk assessments sometimes include an examination of psychopathy. A personality style defined by affective, interpersonal, and behavioral traits, psychopathy is a well-documented risk factor for non-sexual recidivism among adult offenders. Research also shows that psychopathy is a predictor of sexual recidivism in this population, especially for those with sexual deviance. However, the relationship between psychopathy and recidivism among JSOs is unclear. This study sought to: (1) examine this relationship; (2) investigate whether psychopathy may be measured reliably using items drawn from a commonly used JSO risk assessment tool, the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol-Revised (J-SOAP-II); and (3) assess whether sexual deviance moderates the association between psychopathy and sexual recidivism among JSOs. A seven-item psychopathy scale was identified within the J-SOAP-II, and scores on this scale were generated using data from an earlier study that rated the J-SOAP-II for 146 previously incarcerated JSOs based on a retrospective review of their files. This data was supplemented with Hare Psychopathy Checklist- Youth Version (PCL:YV) ratings for a subset (n = 72) of the sample based on a second retrospective file review. The J-SOAP-II psychopathy scale had strong internal consistency, and correlated significantly with the PCL:YV total score and all factor and facet scores on this measure but Facet 1. Moreover, psychopathy significantly predicted sexual and non-sexual recidivism when measured by both the PCL:YV and the J-SOAP-II. When the predictive validity of the two-factor and four-facet models of the PCL:YV were analyzed, different patterns emerged for sexual and non-sexual recidivism. Whereas Factor 1 and Facets 2 and 3 significantly predicted sexual recidivism, Factor 2 and Facet 3 significantly predicted non- sexual recidivism. Additionally, psychopathy, as measured by the J-SOAP-II psychopathy scale, significantly predicted sexual recidivism for youth with sexual deviance but not for those without this trait, suggesting that sexual deviance may moderate the association between psychopathy and sexual recidivism in youth. Clinical implications of these findings are discussed, and study limitations are addressed.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Wijetunga, Charity, "An examination of the relationship between psychopathy and recidivism in juvenile sex offenders" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1601367.