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Antisocial personality disorder in incarcerated offenders: Psychiatric comorbidity and quality of life

Donald W. Black, MD

Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, Iowa Department of Corrections, Iowa Medical and Classification Center, Oakdale, IA, USA

Tracy Gunter, MD

Department of Psychiatry and Neurology, St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA

Peggy Loveless, PhDJeff Allen, PhD

Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA, USA

Bruce Sieleni, MD

Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, Iowa Department of Corrections, Iowa Medical and Classification Center, Oakdale, IA, USA

BACKGROUND: We determined the frequency of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) in offenders. We examined demographic characteristics, psychiatric comorbidity, and quality of life in those with and without ASPD. We also looked at the subset with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

METHODS: A random sample of 320 newly incarcerated offenders was assessed using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI), the 36-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36), and the Level of Service Inventory–Revised (LSI-R).

RESULTS: ASPD was present in 113 subjects (35.3%). There was no gender-based prevalence difference. Offenders with ASPD were younger, had a higher suicide risk, and had higher rates of mood, anxiety, substance use, psychotic, somatoform disorders, borderline personality disorder, and ADHD. Quality of life was worse, and their LSI-R scores were higher, indicating a greater risk for recidivism. A subanalysis showed that offenders with ASPD who also had ADHD had a higher suicide risk, higher rates of comorbid disorders, and worse mental health functioning.

CONCLUSION: ASPD is relatively common among both male and female inmates and is associated with comorbid disorders, high suicide risk, and impaired quality of life. Those with comorbid ADHD were more impaired than those without ADHD. ASPD occurs frequently in prison populations and is nearly as common in women as in men. These study findings should contribute to discussions of appropriate and innovative treatment of ASPD in correctional settings.

KEYWORDS: antisocial personality disorder, offenders, prison, incarceration



Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of socially irresponsible, exploitative, and guiltless behavior. ASPD has a prevalence of between 3.9% and 5.8% in men and 0.5% and 1.9% in women in the US general population.1-3 The disorder is associated with significant psychosocial impairment, depression, substance misuse, and domestic violence; suicide is an all too common outcome.4-6 Family and marital relationships are frequently disrupted in persons with ASPD, and health care utilization is excessive.7,8 The prevalence of ASPD is higher in correctional than in psychiatric settings.9-15 In prison, offenders with ASPD can present a considerable management problem because of their irritability, aggression, disregard for the rights of others, and lack of remorse.16,17

We recently assessed the prevalence of ASPD and other psychiatric disorders in a group of offenders newly committed to the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC). This was part of a larger prevalence survey already reported.18 Subjects were assessed with DSM-IV criteria using standardized instruments of known reliability. We expected to see ASPD at higher frequencies in men than in women, and that offenders with ASPD would have poorer quality of life, and higher rates of psychiatric comorbidity than offenders without ASPD. We further expected that antisocial offenders with comorbid attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) would fare even worse. We have already reported on offenders with borderline personality disorder (BPD)19 and those with ADHD.20



Subjects were randomly selected for participation from the daily census roster of incoming offenders newly committed to the IDOC and undergoing intake assessment at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (IMCC) in Oakdale, Iowa. IMCC serves as a reception facility for the IDOC. All newly committed offenders are admitted for essential intake and reception activities, including a health screen, basic orientation to Iowa’s correctional system, institutional assignment, and initiation of the IDOC’s central offender record. The process lasts 4 to 6 weeks, after which offenders are assigned to 1 of 9 correctional facilities throughout Iowa to serve their sentence. The sample does not include persons who had violated probation, those requiring special programming (eg, close supervision, segregation, seclusion), or those requiring maximum security placement. Violent offenders and those requiring segregation or maximum security placement were excluded because they could not be easily moved into the testing area. Stays in special programming units were generally brief so that most inmates were generally unavailable for the testing. Women were purposely oversampled so that their percentage in the study was approximately twice that in the Iowa prison population.

Interviewing was conducted at IMCC by trained raters. All subjects gave written, informed consent according to procedures approved by the University of Iowa Institutional Review Board and were compensated. The study was conducted under a Certificate of Confidentiality and in compliance with Office of Human Research Protections regulations regarding research with prisoners.21 These regulations help to ensure that the rights of offenders are protected and that research procedures are not coercive.

Demographic data, including age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, and marital status, were obtained along with legal/criminal variables of interest. Offenders were administered the MINI-Plus,22 a fully structured instrument that assesses the presence of DSM-IV23 mood disorders, anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, substance use disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, conduct disorder, ASPD, ADHD, and adjustment disorder. A summary score is calculated to indicate suicide risk. The ASPD section involves 2 areas of inquiry. In the first, subjects are asked about 6 specific problematic childhood misbehaviors; if ≥2 are endorsed, then subjects are asked about 6 antisocial behaviors since age 15; ≥3 are required for the diagnosis. The BPD module of the Structured Interview for DSM-IV Personality (SIDP-IV)24 was used to assess the presence of BPD and its traits. (This screen was added after the study was under way and was administered to a subset of 220 offenders.) The Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36)25,26 was used to assess functional status. Finally, subjects were administered the Level of Service Inventory–Revised (LSI-R),27 used in correctional settings to gather data on social/demographic variables and criminal history. The instrument also provides a measure of the primary risk factors that contribute to the development of lifetime adjustment problems and is used to predict recidivism.

The Pearson chi-square test (or the Fisher’s exact test when the expected cell counts were too small) was used for comparison of categorical variables. P values <.05 were considered statistically significant.


A total of 322 subjects were recruited, and 320 (264 men, 56 women) completed the assessment protocol. A total of 113 offenders (35.3%) met criteria for ASPD. The percentage of men with ASPD was greater than that for women (37.1% and 26.8%, respectively), but the difference was not significant. Associated demographic characteristics of the sample are shown in TABLE 1. Offenders with ASPD were mean age 29.3 years, and most were Caucasian. ASPD status was not related to race/ethnicity, education, marital status, or current criminal offense. The ASPD group was much more likely to be considered at risk for suicide based on a scale embedded in the MINI-Plus.

TABLE 2 compares antisocial and nonantisocial offenders with respect to selected LSI-R items. Because offenders with ASPD were more likely to be men, we calculated adjusted odds ratios (with confidence intervals and P values) by fitting a logistic regression model for each LSI-R item (treated as a dichotomous outcome) with ASPD status, gender, age, and race/ethnicity as covariates. Subjects with ASPD were more likely to report prior mental health treatment (80.5% in ASPD group, 66.2% in non-ASPD group); the odds of having prior mental health treatment were 2.4 times higher for the ASDP group (95% confidence interval, 1.4 to 4.3). From TABLE 2, we also see that antisocial subjects were more likely to report ≥3 prior convictions, to have been punished for misconduct (in prison), and to have been fired before incarceration.

TABLE 3 compares current and lifetime psychiatric diagnoses between the 2 groups and shows statistically significant differences in the percentage of subjects with mood, anxiety, substance use, psychotic, conduct, any MINI, and somatoform disorders; ADHD; and BPD. Of note, there was considerable overlap between ASPD and BPD; 44% of 84 offenders with ASPD who received the BPD screen also met criteria for BPD. Psychoses were frequent in both groups, although most were related to substances (n = 47) or to a medical condition (n = 1).

TABLE 4 presents comparisons of the 2 groups on semicontinuous measures of interest, including the LSI-R total score and SF-36 scales. We report the adjusted difference (D) in the groups’ means for each measure. The adjusted differences were derived by fitting multiple linear regression models with each measure (LSI-R total or SF-36) as the outcome, and gender, age, and race/ethnicity as covariates. The LSI-R total scores were higher for the ASPD subjects, suggesting a greater likelihood of recidivism. The SF-36 scale scores were consistently lower for the ASPD group with the exception of physical functioning. Variables indicating emotional well-being were particularly affected, including role limitations due to emotional health, mental health, and the summary scale for mental health; social functioning was also worse in the group with ASPD.


Demographic characteristics in offenders with and without ASPD

  ASPD status
Variable Present (n = 113) Absent (n = 207) P valuea
Mean age (SD) 29.3 (8.3) 32.1 (10.0) .012b
  Female 13.3% 19.8% .142
  Male 86.7% 80.2%
  African American 10.6% 20.8% .063
  Caucasian 76.1% 69.1%
  Other 13.3% 10.1%
  Less than high school 23.0% 20.3% .259
  High school or GED 62.0% 57.0%
  More than high school 15.0% 22.7%
Marital status
  Divorced 18.2% 20.3% .953
  Married 20.9% 21.7%
  Single 56.4% 53.1%
  Other 4.5% 4.7%
Current suicide risk 39.8% 24.2% .003
Type of current offense
  Drug manufacturing/delivery 33.6% 31.9% .262c
  Assault/abuse 27.4% 21.7%
  DUI/driving while barred 8.9% 14.5%
  Burglary 8.0% 13.0%
  Parole violation 15.0% 8.7%
    Fraud/forgery 6.2% 6.8%
    Possession of firearm 0.9% 2.4%
    Unknown 0.0% 1.0%
ASPD: antisocial personality disorder; DUI: driving under the influence (of alcohol or other substances); GED: general educational development.
aP value from Pearson chi-square test.
bP value from Fisher’s exact test used.
cP value from Student t test used.


Selected LSI-R items in offenders with and without ASPD

ASPD status
LSI-R item Present (n = 113) Absent (n = 207) ORa (95% CI) P valueb
Prior MH treatment 80.5% 66.2% 2.4 (1.4 to 4.3) .003
Severe interference from MH problem 4.4% 7.7% 0.6 (0.2 to 1.7) .317
≥3 current offenses 26.6% 22.2% 1.2 (0.7 to 2.1) .486
≥1 prior convictions 81.4% 76.8% 1.5 (0.9 to 2.8) .158
≥3 prior convictions 74.3% 61.8% 2.4 (1.4 to 4.1) .002
Prior incarceration 78.8% 71.5% 1.6 (0.9 to 2.7) .123
Ever punished for misconduct (in prison) 65.5% 44.9% 2.3 (1.4 to 3.7) .001
Record of assault 70.8% 63.3% 1.5 (0.9 to 2.5) .127
Employed (when charged) 55.8% 56.0% 1.0 (0.6 to 1.6) .947
Ever fired 74.3% 61.4% 2.0 (1.2 to 3.3) .012
ASPD: antisocial personality disorder; CI: confidence interval; MH: mental health; OR: odds ratio (adjusted).
aOR adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity.
bP value from multiple logistic regression model.

Table 3

Psychiatric comorbidity in offenders with and without ASPD

ASPD status
Disorder Present (n = 113) Absent (n = 207) ORa (95% CI) P valueb
Mood disorders
  Major depression 33.6% 17.9% 2.4 (1.4 to 4.2) .002
  Dysthymia 3.5% 2.9% 1.3 (0.4 to 5.0) .746c
  Bipolar 65.5% 34.3% 3.8 (2.3 to 6.3) <.001
  Other mood disorder 12.4% 6.3% 2.5 (1.1 to 5.9) .030
  Any mood disorder 76.1% 42.5% 4.7 (2.8 to 8.0) <.001
Anxiety disorders
  Panic 12.4% 5.8% 2.4 (1.0 to 5.4) .044
  Agoraphobia 34.5% 16.9% 2.8 (1.6 to 4.8) <.001
  Generalized anxiety disorder 31.0% 12.6% 3.7 (2.0 to 6.8) <.001
  Social anxiety disorder 20.4% 4.8% 5.3 (2.3 to 11.8) <.001
  Specific phobia 6.2% 3.9% 1.9 (0.6 to 5.6) .258
  Obsessive-compulsive disorder 21.2% 3.4% 7.9 (3.2 to 19.7) <.001
  Posttraumatic stress disorder 20.4% 8.2% 3.9 (1.8 to 8.3) <.001
  Any anxiety disorder 61.1% 32.9% 3.7 (2.3 to 6.2) <.001
Substance use disorders
  Alcohol disorder 85.0% 67.6% 2.6 (1.4 to 4.8) .005
  Drug disorder 92.9% 67.6% 6.5 (2.9 to 14.3) <.001
  Any substance use disorder 98.2% 85.0% 11.2 (2.5 to 50.0) .002
Psychotic disorders
  Schizophrenia/NOS 14.2% 5.3% 2.7 (1.2 to 6.2) .018
  Substance/GMC related 42.5% 18.4% 3.6 (2.1 to 6.2) <.001
  Any psychotic disorder 55.8% 23.7% 4.1 (2.5 to 6.9) <.001
Eating disorders
  Anorexia 0.0% 0.0% NAd NAd
  Bulimia 4.4% 1.9% 2.3 (0.6 to 9.4) .288c
  Any eating disorder 4.4% 1.9% 2.3 (0.6 to 9.4) .288c
Somatoform disorders
  Somatization disorder 0.9% 0.0% NAd .353c
  Hypochondriasis 2.7% 0.5% 5.8 (0.6 to 61.0) .128c
  Body dysmorphic disorder 5.3% 2.4% 2.8 (0.8 to 10.0) .205c
  Pain disorder 3.5% 1.0% 4.8 (0.8 to 29.2) .190c
  Any somatoform disorder 9.7% 3.4% 3.6 (1.3 to 10.1) .017
Borderline personality disordere 44.1% 21.0% 3.0 (1.6 to 5.5) <.001
Conduct disorder 96.5% 11.6% NAd <.001
ADHD 33.6% 15.0% 2.6 (1.5 to 4.6) <.001
Adjustment disorder 5.3% 3.9% 1.6 (0.5 to 5.0) .575c
Any MINI disorder 100.0% 91.8% NAd <.001c
ADHD: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; ASPD: antisocial personality disorder; CI: confidence interval; GMC: general medical condition; MINI; Mini international Neuropsychiatric Interview; NA: not applicable; NOS: not otherwise specified; OR: odds ratio (adjusted).
aOR adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity.
bP value from multiple logistic regression model.
cP value from Fisher’s exact test.
dLogistic regression model not fit due to lack of response variability.
eResults for borderline personality disorder used n = 220.


Mean (SD) LSI-R and SF-36 scores in offenders with and without ASPD

ASPD status
Scale Present (n = 113) Absent (n = 207) D (SE)a P valueb
LSI-R total score 34.9 (6.8) 31.8 (7.4) 3.1 (0.9) <.001
SF-36 scales
  Physical Summary 80.0 (18.5) 80.4 (19.5) –2.2 (2.3) .337
  Mental Summary 60.1 (23.5) 68.0 (21.4) –8.5 (2.8) .002
  Physical Functioning 89.4 (18.9) 84.9 (24.3) 2.6 (2.7) .336
  Role Limitations (Physical) 80.5 (31.1) 81.9 (32.8) –3.2 (3.8) .409
  Role Limitations (Emotional) 64.0 (42.5) 76.3 (37.2) –13.5 (4.7) .004
  Vitality 54.1 (22.5) 58.7 (21.0) –4.5 (2.6) .087
  Mental Health 56.3 (22.0) 63.2 (21.8) –6.9 (2.7) .010
  Social Functioning 65.8 (27.7) 74.1 (26.0) –9.4 (3.2) .004
  Bodily Pain 79.0 (23.4) 82.2 (24.0) –5.1 (2.8) .068
  General Health 70.6 (22.2) 72.9 (20.3) –3.6 (2.5) .150
ASPD: antisocial personality disorder; D: difference (adjusted); LSI-R: Level of Service Inventory–Revised; SF-36: 36-item Short Form Health Survey.
aD in group means adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity.
bP value from multiple logistic regression model.
ADHD subanalysis

We conducted a subanalysis comparing 37 antisocial offenders with ADHD and 75 without; thus, 33% of antisocial offenders had comorbid ADHD. (One subject was omitted from the analysis because the data for an ADHD diagnosis were incomplete and group assignment was not possible.) There were no differences in demographics, education, type of current offense, selected items from the LSI-R, or the LSI-R score itself. Offenders with ADHD were more likely to have high suicide risk scores (62% vs 28%, respectively; P < .001). A comparison of MINI data shows that the subset with ADHD were significantly more likely to meet criteria for major depression (62% to 19%; P < .001), bipolar disorder (78% to 59%; P < .04), other mood disorder (24% to 7%; P = .008), any mood disorder (97% to 65%; P < .001), panic disorder (24% to 5%; P = .009), body dysmorphic disorder (14% to 1%; P = .015), and any somatoform disorder (18% to 5%; P = .039). They also had significantly worse SF-36 mental health subscores (P < .001) and worse mental health summary scores (P = .011). (Tables are not shown.)


More than 35% of offenders assessed for this study met criteria for ASPD. The rate of ASPD is higher than in our pilot study (19%),28 despite using the same diagnostic instrument at the same facility, but the finding could be due to the larger sample and more consistent administration of the MINI-Plus. Importantly, there was no significant difference in its prevalence between men (37%) and women (27%). Although ASPD mainly occurs in men in the general population, it appears that its frequency among incarcerated women approaches that of men. The fact that so many women met criteria for ASPD is a strong indicator that the disorder needs to be included in the differential diagnosis in prison settings, particularly when the presenting complaints involve irresponsibility, aggression, or deceitfulness.

Although the overall rate appears high, this rate falls in the midrange of what others have reported. It should not be interpreted as a prevalence estimate among all offenders but, rather, those newly committed to the IDOC who were physically and psychiatrically stable at the time of the interview and on a regular security level. Repeat offenders, those on special programming, persons violating probation, maximum security new offenders, and offenders not sentenced to prison (ie, probationers) were not included. Thus, the true rate of ASPD could be much higher.

Rates of ASPD among incarcerated offenders have varied from 11% to 78% among men and 12% to 65% among women, depending on the sample size, particular prison population sampled, and assessment method used.9-15 Blackburn and Coid15 reported in a study from England that 62% of 164 violent male offenders met criteria for ASPD. Jordan et al12 assessed 805 women entering prison in North Carolina and reported that 12% were antisocial, whereas Zlotnick14 reported that 40% of 85 women offenders incarcerated in Rhode Island met criteria for ASPD. Lastly, in a large survey of incarcerated persons in the United Kingdom, Singleton et al13 determined that 56% of 2371 men and 31% of 771 women were antisocial. Although not directly comparable to our study, these studies point to the frequency with which ASPD is seen in prison settings in both the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly among violent offenders. These figures are substantially higher than what has been reported in the general population, as mentioned earlier.

Offenders with ASPD are much more likely to have other types of mental illness. Like their antisocial counterparts in the community, offenders had high rates of mood, anxiety, substance use, and somatoform disorders, and BPD.1-5 The pattern mirrors what is seen in clinical samples, except perhaps for even higher rates of substance use disorders.29-32 This latter finding could reflect the influence of having a predominantly male sample, or the fact that the most common criminal offenses in this sample were substance related. With few exceptions, the rates of psychiatric comorbidity were markedly higher for the offenders with ASPD. This finding is similar to what our group reported in formerly hospitalized antisocial men.30

Fifty-six percent of the offenders with ASPD and 24% of the remainder screened positive for a lifetime psychotic disorder, albeit most were substance-related. These figures may seem excessive, yet should be placed into perspective. First, prevalence for schizophrenia/psychotic disorder not otherwise specified (NOS) cases is not out of line with what has been previously reported in correctional samples.33,34 In fact, nearly all offenders met criteria for a lifetime substance use disorder (and for many, the substance misuse/manufacture contributed to their incarceration). Psychotic features are commonly observed in substance abusers, particularly when stimulants (eg, methamphetamine) are involved.34,35 Further, it may be that the MINI-Plus overdiagnoses psychotic disorders. The studies of both Sheehan et al22 and Otsubo et al37 report a relatively high rate of false-positive diagnoses of psychotic disorders with the MINI. Lastly, the MINI-Plus has not been standardized in the setting of criminal prosecution and incarceration—unusual experiences that may contribute to elevations in instruments designed to measure strange experiences.

The overlap with BPD merits comment. In this study, 44% of antisocial offenders also met criteria for BPD, not unlike what Zlotnick14 and others15 have reported. We have already written about offenders with BPD, who were more likely to be female, have high suicide risk scores, have substantial psychiatric comorbidity, and have impaired quality of life.38

Not surprising was the fact that antisocial offenders were more likely to report a history of prior mental health treatment and impaired quality of life than were nonantisocial subjects, as indicated by scores on the SF-36 subscales. These findings have been reported in clinical samples,29 and were confirmed in our follow-up of antisocial men.29,39 Thus, these findings are compatible with clinical studies that indicate that ASPD subjects experience substantial psychological distress, which impairs their ability to function in important life domains.

Our subanalysis on antisocial offenders with and without ADHD was also informative. As expected, those with ADHD were more severe. They had higher suicide risk scores and a higher frequency of mood disorders, panic disorder, and somatoform disorders (especially body dysmorphic disorder). The association of ADHD with body dysmorphic disorder is intriguing, and although not previously reported, may possibly relate to negative self-image common to many persons with ADHD.40,41 The prevalence of ADHD in antisocial offenders (33%) is lower than that reported in a study of 105 antisocial inmates (65%) in Turkey.42 In that study, although psychiatric comorbidity was not assessed, those with ASPD and comorbid ADHD had higher rates of childhood neglect, self-injurious behavior, and suicide attempts. The latter finding is particular intriguing, and partially replicates our finding that antisocial offenders with ADHD are at special risk for suicidal behavior. Although the association of ADHD in adults with ASPD has rarely been examined, follow-up studies of ADHD show that the co-occurrence of ADHD and ASPD predicts earlier onset of addictive behaviors and criminality.43,44

There are several limitations to acknowledge in this study. First, because this sample consisted of offenders newly committed to the general population of a reception unit at a state prison, the results may not generalize to incarcerated offenders as a whole, or to probationers or parolees. Because there were relatively few women in the study, caution should be used in attempting to generalize the findings to this population. Second, while recall bias could have altered reports of symptoms, the potential for bias is likely reduced by the use of multiple validated self-report measures. Although the MINI-Plus itself is widely used and has acceptable reliability and validity with most diagnostic categories, there is some evidence that the instrument may overdiagnose some disorders, including psychoses. Third, the ASPD diagnosis was based on a single instrument, and there was no effort to interview family members or other informants, who could have provided additional information. Lastly, although it appeared that subjects were forthright in their reporting symptoms of mental illness, substance misuse, and ASPD, some degree of under-reporting of antisocial behaviors and overreporting of symptoms of mental illness is possible.


The current study was not developed as an epidemiologic study and involved only newly committed offenders without special security or medical designation. Nonetheless, the findings suggest that ASPD occurs frequently in prison and is nearly as common in women as in men. A critical implication is that correctional systems should not overlook the diagnosis of ASPD in women. Offenders with ASPD are more likely to report poorer mental health and social functioning, to have substantial psychiatric comorbidity, and to report higher suicide risk, and for these reasons are likely to require more intensive mental health services than others. These findings should contribute to discussions regarding the appropriate management of persons with ASPD in correctional settings.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We wish to acknowledge the contributions of Maggie Graeber, Brett McCormick, and Courtney Hale for their help in data collection. Leonard Welch, PhD, Bob Schultz, and the staff at IMCC helped to facilitate interviewing, for which we are grateful.

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Black receives research/grant support from AstraZeneca and Forest Laboratories and is a consultant to Jazz Pharmaceuticals. Drs. Gunter, Loveless, Allen, and Sieleni report no financial relationship with any company whose products are mentioned in this article or with manufacturers of competing products.


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CORRESPONDENCE: Donald W. Black, MD, Psychiatry Research/2-126B MEB, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA 52242 USA E-MAIL: