Monday, October 12, 2009

Measuring the risk of arson

There were 39,318 cases of arson in 2007-8 and in 2003 arson cost the U.K. economy £7.7bn. Mental-health problems are frequent among arsonists but there is little research into the assessment of future risk from arsonists; either in terms of the chances of them re-offending or of their potential for committing more dangerous arson in the future. A team of researchers led by Geoff Dickens from St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton looked at the case notes of 167 adult arsonists referred for forensic psychiatric assessment over a 24-year period. Repeat arsonists were younger, single and had a number of attributes suggesting childhood disturbances. Personality disorders and previous time in prison were also associated with reoffending. However, recidivism was not associated with starting more serious fires. It was much harder to predict the seriousness of people's arson attempts although having previously started fires with more than one ignition point and involving accelerants (e.g. kerosene or petrol) were both linked to more serious arson attempts in the future.

Dickens, Geoff ... [et al] - Recidivism and dangerousness in arsonists Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology October 2009, 20(5), 621-639

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