A Comparison of Psychopathology and Reoffending in Female and Male Convicted Firesetters


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Abstract

Little is known about the psychopathological or criminal history characteristics of female firesetters, or how often women reoffend by firesetting. The current study is one of the few large-scale longitudinal investigations to compare key psychiatric and offending variables in female and male firesetters who are not incarcerated or known to be mentally disordered. In addition, the study aimed to identify the base rate of recidivism for female firesetters compared with males. The study compared all 143 female and 909 male firesetters convicted of arson and fire-related offenses between 2000 and 2009 in Victoria, Australia. The study employed a data linkage approach to compare the psychiatric and criminal histories of participants and reoffending in the sample. Firesetters of both sexes reoffended by firesetting at similar rates (males 5.1%, females 7.0%), and reoffenders shared many characteristics. Compared with male firesetters, female firesetters were found to be less criminally versatile, to have offended less overall, and were less likely to have violent offenses. Females were more often diagnosed with depression, substance misuse, and personality disorder than men. The findings indicate that female firesetters might be suitable for assessment approaches and treatment programs offered to men, but tailored to take account of the personality and psychopathological characteristics seen more often in this group.

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