Personality Disorder and Criminal Behaviour

What Is the Nature of the Relationship?

Sophie Davison; Aleksandar Janca


Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2012;25(1):39-45. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Purpose of review: There is a well established association between personality disorder and offending but the nature of the relationship is less well understood. We reviewed the recent literature on personality disorder and offending, picking out studies that examined the relationship between the two.
Recent findings: Cluster A, B and C personality disorders are each associated with different types of offences. Although rates of personality disorder are high in all serious offenders, the role played by personality disorder may be greater in some offences than others, for example, in rapists compared with child molesters, men who kill their fathers rather than their mothers, men who kill their children compared with mothers who kill their children; and in less severe stalking behaviour compared with those who get convictions. Three articles suggested frameworks for understanding how personality disorder may interact with other factors to contribute to offending.
Summary: Frameworks that integrate personality traits; comorbid problems such as substance misuse, mood disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms; motivation for offending; maladaptive cognitions; beliefs and attitudes; anger and arousal; and situational factors are helpful when considering risk assessment, risk management and treatment. More empirical research is needed to test these theories.


It is well established that people in correctional and forensic mental health settings have higher rates of personality disorder, especially antisocial personality disorder, than people in the general community.[1] The relationship between personality disorder and violent re-offending is so well established that the presence of personality disorder has been incorporated as a risk factor in structured risk assessment tools such as the Historical Clinical Risk Management-20[2] and Violence Risk Assessment Guide (VRAG).[3] The Hare Psychopathy Checklist revised (PCL-R),[4] which measures psychopathy, a particular subtype of antisocial personality, has become well established as an actuarial tool for predicting the risk of violent re-offending.

The relationship between antisocial personality disorder and offending is not surprising given the rather tautological definition. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) includes repeated acts that are grounds for arrest; and central to the ICD 10 diagnosis is the gross disparity between behaviour and the prevailing social norms.

A clear understanding of the nature of the link between personality disorder and offending has important implications for treatment and risk management. Until recently, however, less attention has been paid to types and aspects of personality disorder other than antisocial and their relationship with offending behaviour; and between personality disorders with particular aspects and types of offending behaviour, violent and nonviolent.

We reviewed the recent peer reviewed literature (2009 to present) on personality disorder and offending by searching for the term personality disorder combined with the terms offending, criminality, criminal behaviour, violence, homicide, prison and forensic, respectively, in the MEDLINE and psycINFO online databases.

We picked out studies that examined the relationship between personality disorder and offending.


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