Risk factors of violent offending in mentally ill prisoners with autism spectrum disorders

Nora van Buitenen, Jesse Meijers, Chantal van den Berg, JM Harte

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Results of research regarding a possible causal relation between autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and violence are mixed. Several explanations have been proposed.

To assess prevalence rates of comorbid disorders in a large sample of mentally ill offenders diagnosed with ASD. Offenders with and without comorbid mental disorders were compared on several characteristics. To better understand the relationship between ASD and violent criminal behavior, the predictive value of several proposed risk factors (comorbidity, negative social network/influenceability, and childhood trauma/victimization) on violent offending was investigated.

Data of 394 male offenders with a diagnosis of ASD were included. Prevalence rates of comorbid mental disorders next to ASD were calculated, and characteristics were compared using chi-square or t-tests. The predictive value of the risk factors was assessed using a binary logistic regression (n = 357).

High rates of comorbidity were found (78.9%), specifically for substance use disorders (39.8%), schizophrenia spectrum disorders (31.7%), and neurodevelopmental disorder other than ASD (24.1%). Offenders with and without comorbidity differed significantly in their criminal and mental health care history. Both comorbidity (OR = 1.68; 95% CI 1.27–2.18) and a negative social network/influenceability (OR = 1.49; 95% CI 1.11–1.99) showed to be significant predictors of violent offending within this sample.

The highest rates of comorbid disorders found were disorders that have been previously linked to violent offending, and the risk of violent offending could be unrelated to ASD. However, the role of social functioning indicates a risk specific to the symptoms of ASD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-188
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Early online date2 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

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© 2021

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Risk factors
  • Violence
  • Comorbidity
  • Forensic psychiatry


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