Psychopathy is a constellation of psychological symptoms that typically emerges early in childhood and affects all aspects of a sufferer’s life including relationships with family, friends, work, and school. The symptoms of psychopathy include shallow affect, lack of empathy, guilt and remorse, irresponsibility, and impulsivity (see Table 1 for a complete list of psychopathic symptoms). The best current estimate is that just less than 1% of all noninstitutionalized males age 18 and over are psychopaths.1 This translates to approximately 1,150,000 adult males who would meet the criteria for psychopathy in the United States today.2 And of the approximately 6,720,000 adult males that are in prison, jail, parole, or probation,3 16%, or 1,075,000, are psychopaths.4 Thus, approximately 93% of adult male psychopaths in the United States are in prison, jail, parole, or probation.
Psychopathy is astonishingly common as mental disorders go. It is twice as common as schizophrenia, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and paranoia,5 and roughly as common as bulimia, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and narcissism.6 Indeed, the only mental disorders significantly more common than psychopathy are those related to drug and alcohol abuse or dependence, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
No matter where one stands on the long-debated question of whether “nothing works” when it comes to criminal rehabilitation,7 there is no doubt that the psychopath has grossly distorted the inquiry. Psychopaths are not only much more likely than non-psychopaths to be imprisoned for committing violent crimes,8 they are also more likely to finagle an early release using the deceptive skills that are part of their pathologic toolbox,9 and then, once released, are much more likely to recidivate, and to recidivate violently.