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Psychopathic features in young incarcerated females

Susanne Strand (Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia AND School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Centre for Criminological and PsychoSocial Research, Örebro University, Sweden)
Stefan Luebbers (Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.)
Stephane M. Shepherd (Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 3 May 2016



The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between psychopathic features as measured with the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV) and behavioural and emotional functioning in young female offenders in custody.


This is a quantitative interview study investigating the relationship with psychopathic traits, measured with the PCL:YV (Forth et al., 2003), and different psychological characteristics as well as AD/HD, self-harm, and childhood trauma in adolescent offenders across genders. Data were collected from a sample of 40 female and 40 male adolescents who were incarcerated in Victoria, Australia.


Results indicated that the behavioural subscales of the PCL:YV were associated with externalising behaviours possibly underpinned by histories of abuse and substantiated child protection incidences. The presence of AD/HD was strongly associated with affective deficits suggesting that the PCL:YV may be identifying young females with AD/HD rather than core psychopathic traits. Findings also indicate that female-specific manifestations of manipulation are likely being misidentified as behavioural phenomena precluding clinical recognition as a core interpersonal trait. Significant dissimilarities with a young male comparison group were identified and are discussed within.

Research limitations/implications

The sample size is very small and the results should be seen as an indication rather than generalising.


Studies on female juvenile offenders is rare and this study adds to the literature on the construct of psychopathy and its relationship to psychosocial factors as well as associations with AD/HD, self-harm, and childhood trauma, among incarcerated adolescents.



This research was funded through an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant (DP1095697).


Strand, S., Luebbers, S. and Shepherd, S.M. (2016), "Psychopathic features in young incarcerated females", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 63-75.



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