Backgrounds and characteristics of arsonists
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Abstract The aim of this study was to gain more insight in the backgrounds and characteristics of arsonists. For this, the psychiatric, psychological, personal, and criminal backgrounds of all arsonists (n=25), sentenced to forced treatment in the maximum security forensic hospital "De Kijvelanden", were compared to the characteristics of a control group of patients (n=50), incarcerated at the same institution for other severe crimes. Apart from DSM-IV Axis I and Axis II disorders, family backgrounds, level of education, treatment history, intelligence (WAIS scores), and PCL-R scores were included in the comparisons. Furthermore, the apparent motives for the arson offences were explored. It was found that arsonists had more often received psychiatric treatment, prior to committing their index offence, and had a history of severe alcohol abuse more often in comparison to the controls. The arsonists turned out to be less likely to suffer from a major psychotic disorder. Both groups did not differ significantly on the other variables, among which the PCL-R total scores and factor scores. Exploratory analyses however, did suggest that arsonists may differentiate from non-arsonists on three items of the PCL-R, namely impulsivity (higher scores), superficial charm (lower scores), and juvenile delinquency (lower scores). Although the number of arsonists with a major psychotic disorder was relatively low (28%), delusional thinking of some form was judged to play a role in causing arson crimes in about half of the cases (52%).