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Predictors of self-harm in male inmates

Jennifer Jane Barton (PhD Student, based at School of Social Science and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Tanya Meade (Director of Academic Programs and Associate Professor, based at School of Social Science and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Steven Cumming (Associate Professor, based at Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Anthony Samuels (District Clinical Director, MLMD, Wagga Wagga, and an Associate Professor, based at School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 12 March 2014




The purpose of this paper is to examine the predictors of self-harm in male inmates.


Male inmates with and without a background of self-harm (i.e. suicidal and non-suicidal) were compared across two distal (static and trait) and two proximal (environmental and current/state psychological) domains. The factors from the four domains which may accurately classify self-harm history were also examined.


The two groups were significantly different across the four domains, particularly on psychological characteristics. The self-harm group was associated with childhood trauma, violent offences, institutional misconducts and lower levels of social support significantly more than the non-self-harm group. Being single, childhood abuse, impulsivity, antisocial personality disorder and global psychopathology were the five key predictors that contributed to 87.4 per cent of all cases being correctly classified.

Practical implications

The high levels of psychiatric morbidity and childhood trauma in the self-harm group indicated a need for interventions that address emotional and interpersonal difficulties and optimization of adaptive coping skills. Also, interventions may require a focus on the behavioural functions.


A novel approach was taken to the grouping of the variables. A comprehensive range of variables, was assessed simultaneously, including some not previously considered indicators, and in an understudied population, Australian male inmates. The lower levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness and generalized anxiety disorder which distinguished the self-harm and non-self-harm group, were newly identified for self-harm.



Thanks to Dr Michael Hough, School of Social Science and Psychology, University of Western Sydney for statistical consultation.


Jane Barton, J., Meade, T., Cumming, S. and Samuels, A. (2014), "Predictors of self-harm in male inmates", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 2-18.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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