The relationship between stressful life events, personality profile, dissociative experiences, attachment styles and types of crimes committed among mentally ill offenders and criminal offenders in the South African context

Radebe, Zama Khanyisile
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The current study investigates the relationship between stressful life events, personality profile, dissociative experiences, attachment styles and the types of crimes committed among 100 mentally ill offenders and 100 criminal offenders in the South African context. It is motivated by the fact that there are no studies in South Africa comparing forensic patients and criminal offenders and the various factors that may lead to criminal behaviour, and how these may present in terms of the type and/or nature of offences committed. Instead, there is a growing emphasis on observation of patients and assessments for fitness and competence to stand trial with very little focus on understanding the mentally ill offenders and criminal offenders. This study aims to improve the understanding and knowledge with regards to the presentation of each of these groups under study and also to investigate possible differences in the types of crimes committed. It aims to assess possible correlations between the variables of the study (stressful life events, personality profiles, dissociative experiences, attachment styles and the types of crimes). It further aims to inform future treatment interventions in the forensic setting and to offer possible prevention models for the community setting. The study hypothesises that there are no differences between the mentally ill offenders and criminal offenders with regards to stressful life events, personality profile, dissociative experiences, attachment styles and the types of crimes committed. Ethical clearance was obtained from the Committee for Research on Human Subjects of the University of Witwatersrand‟s medical school. The sample size of this study consists of 200 participants (156 males and 54 females). Convenience sampling was used, where 100 mentally ill offenders admitted at the Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital and 100 criminal offenders, incarcerated at the Johannesburg Correctional Services in the Johannesburg area at the time of data collection, were involved in the study. The mentally ill offenders from Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital were interviewed at the hospital and the criminal offenders from Correctional Services were interviewed in their respective prisons without the presence of a prison guard. Participants‟ ages ranged from 18 years to 60 years. Those people who were not willing to participate were not included in the study. The Biographical details questionnaire, Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), Stressful Life Events Screening Questionnaire (SLESQ), Multiphasic Minnesota Personality Inventory – II (MMPI-II), Dissociative Experience Scale (DES) and Attachment Styles Questionnaire (ASQ) were administered to the participants of the study as a means of gathering information regarding the variables under study. The types of crimes and diagnoses were obtained from the records. The study attempted to ascertain whether there were any associations, and whether predictions could be made for possible future assessments and treatment strategies. It is a quasi-experimental design with “diagnosis” as the between-participants factor. Independent variables of the study were the type of offender, i.e. mentally ill/clinical/forensic patient offender and criminal offenders, as well as the types of crimes, i.e. violent or non-violent crime. The dependent variables were stressful life events. These variables were measured in terms of low risk to illness, moderate risk and high risk to illness; personality profile; dissociative experiences, measured as either low levels or high levels of dissociation and attachment styles (secure, fearful avoidant, ambivalent and preoccupied attachment styles). The confounding variables were substance abuse, medication and comorbid diagnoses. Descriptive statistics and the discriminant function analysis were performed. Box M was also performed to test the null hypothesis that the covariance matrices did not differ between groups formed by the dependent variables. The Chi Square test for independence was also used to determine whether associations existed between two nominally categorical variables. The results of the study indicated that there were only four female participants in the clinical offender group. A high number of research participants were single in both the criminal (72%) and clinical (80%) offender groups. Furthermore, the majority of the participants in the study were Black, where 93% in the criminal offender group and 75% in the clinical offender group. 65% of the participants in the criminal offender group and 85% in the clinical offender group had no tertiary education. There was evidence that clinical offenders tended to commit more violent crimes (83%), while criminal offenders committed more non-violent (61%) and “other” crimes (21%). 91% of criminal offenders reported homelessness compared to clinical offenders (22%). The Dissociative Experience Scale was statistically significant, suggesting that dissociative experiences were a strong determinant of whether one is deemed a criminal or clinical offender. High levels of stress were correlated with higher incidents of criminal behaviour. In contrast to the literature review, past childhood trauma was not statistically significant in the current study. Clinical offenders reported more psychological problems. When ANOVA‟s were performed, psychological difficulties such as depression, anger, antisocial practices, low self-esteem, psychasthenia and family problems were statistically significant, suggesting that these variables were strong determinants for the likelihood of criminal offending. Dismissive and Fearful attachment styles were statistically significant. In conclusion, dissociative experiences, social re-adjustment, psychological pathology and both dismissive and fearful attachment styles were strong determinants of offending behaviour.
A Research Report submitted to the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfillment of the requirements of the PhD degree. Johannesburg 2014