Beyond “Mad, Bad, or Sad:” A Closer Look at Personality Profiles and Risk Level in Justice Involved Youth

Beyond “Mad, Bad, or Sad:” A Closer Look at Personality Profiles and Risk Level in Justice Involved Youth

Article Title

2022, Vol. 21, No. 3, 256-272 | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health

Intersection between Justice-Involved Youth Personality Profiles and Criminal Risk-Need Patterns


Yuliya Kotelnikova; Psychology Department, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Celeste D. Lefebvre; Youth Forensic Services, IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Mary Ann Campbell; Centre for Criminal Justice Studies & Psychology Department, University of New Brunswick, Saint john, New Brunswick, Canada

Donaldo Canales; Centre for Criminal Justice Studies & Psychology Department, University of New Brunswick, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Catherine Stewart; Youth Forensic Services, IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


The purpose of the current study was to inform system level decision-making about the value of integrating clinically relevant personality information with criminogenic need risk appraisal in justice-involved youth.

Using a Canadian sample of youth referred for court ordered psychological assessments (N = 201, M age = 15.62 years; 70% male), we examined the patterns of association and differentiation between youths’ Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (YLS/CMI) criminogenic need/risk profiles with personality profiles derived from the personality scales of the Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory (MACI, Millon, Millon adolescent clinical inventory. National Computer Systems, 1993). Specifically, latent profile analysis identified four MACI based personality profiles: externalizing, internalizing, dependent/followers, and complex dysregulated personality profiles. These groups varied significantly on YLS/CMI risk-need profiles.

Although both externalizing and complex dysregulated sub-types represented higher criminal risk, their intervention needs diverged meaningfully. These results provide insight into the heterogeneity of justice-involved youth and point to the need for system resources that allow for appropriate intervention matching to maximize the goal of recidivism risk reduction in youth.



Justice-involved youth; risk assessment; YLS/CMI; MACI; personality; latent profile analysis; criminal behavior; mental health

Summary of the Research

“Risk assessment plays a central role in decision-making processes for justice-involved youth, providing researchers, clinicians, and public safety professionals with information about a youth’s potential for reoffending and intervention targets to reduce risk…The role of clinical features in risk appraisal/management is complicated due to diverse conceptualizations of mental illness and personality dysfunction…While symptoms reflective of internalizing and psychotic disorders are weakly tied to criminal risk, personality dysfunction, antisocial and psychopathic disorder features in particular, have been found to be strongly predictive of recidivism in adults and youth…Further research is needed to develop a better understanding of how dysfunctional personality traits beyond antisocial features inform recidivism risk appraisal among justice-involved youth…” (p. 256-258).

“…understanding the heterogeneity of the maladaptive personality profiles of justice-involved youth may inform development of appropriate intervention programs consistent with the need and responsivity aspects of the RNR [Risk Need Responsivity] model and inform institutional resource allocation and public health policy…the present study examined the personality profiles of Atlantic Canadian justice-involved youth derived from the MACI [Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory] maladaptive personality trait scales and the linkages between these profiles with criminogenic need and recidivism risk as estimated by the YLS/CMI [Youth Level of Service Inventory/Case Management Inventory]…we expected four personality profiles to emerge: externalizing, internalizing, submissive/agreeable, and emotionally dysregulated. We expected stronger associations between the externalizing and dysregulated groups and criminogenic needs relative to the internalizing and submissive groups…” (p. 259-260).

“The present study used an archival sample of 202 male and female youth ordered by the court to undergo psychological and risk assessments between 2002-2015 with a public mental health service in Atlantic Canada…Overall, gender variations were minimal in our sample on these measured variables. The maladaptive personality profiles for justice-involved youth derived in the present study were generally consistent with previous research…we identified a group of justice-involved youth with elevations on traits that reflected a dependent/follower personality, similar to the previously identified conforming/submissive type. The final profile derived in our study was the complex dysregulated type…[which] had an equal representation of males and females…Of note, the complex dysregulated and externalzing profiles had the highest numbers of thefts committed as an index offense. However, all profiles included a similar percentage of violent-oriented youth based on their index offenses…” (p. 260-266).

“Given that only 29% of the sample was comprised of female youths, we re-ran all analyses for males only. A four-profile model derived with males-only was comprised of similar profiles as the full sample…The rank order of profiles with respect to their peaks and troughs on all personality traits remained the same, and all means changed by less than a standard deviation. The same pattern applies for the changes in means on the YLS/CI risk/need domains…The equal representation of both genders in the complex dysregulated profile is interesting, as such clinical presentations are often linked [to] trauma exposure, which is typically emphasized as a factor more relevant to females than males in the literature…” (p. 266-267).

Translating Research into Practice

“…In the context of prevention of reoffending, considering information from both clinical measures and formal risk tools offers an opportunity to construct a comprehensive, integrated risk intervention plan that is also clinically responsive…To inform this integration, we compared the MACI personality clusters with YLS/CMI criminogenic profiles. The dependent/follower and internalizing profiles fell in the moderate recidivism risk range, whereas both the externalizing and the complex dysregulated profiles fell in the high recidivism risk range. Thus, these two profiles both likely require higher intensity service and supervision to address their criminogenic needs, and the complex dysregulated group also requires clinical services to meet their needs that included borderline personality tendencies and doleful traits along with antisocial oriented traits. In general, our results suggest that an integrated mental health-criminogenic need intervention plan is likely appropriate for the dysregulated profile, whereas the other profiles require a different balance of services depending on the needs represented…” (p. 267).

“…identifying youths’ risk level (low, moderate, high, or very high) and understanding their individual characteristics, such as personality profiles, is essential for matching to the appropriate type and intensity of treatment aimed at decreasing recidivism. Our results suggest that personality profiles may provide insight into treatment planning as well as aid in identifying common criminogenic treatment targets for specific personality presentations. Furthermore, although those at high risk of reoffending need higher intensity treatment, even non-justice involved individuals seen in mental health settings with complex dysregulated personality traits typically require intense long-term treatment to be successful. Hence, it would be beneficial to explore the interaction between personality traits and risk profiles to help elucidate the intensity, treatment needs and focus of interventions to better inform treatment service planning and allocation for justice-involved youth. The presence of the complex dysregulated profile clearly highlights the need for criminogenic and clinical integration of case planning and intervention allocations, building on overlapping deficits in emotional dysregulation and oppositional nature that elevate the risk of this group of youth” (p. 267).

“ Although our study does not directly extend to treatment implementation, understanding their co-presentation may guide interventions and aid in consideration of treatment planning and service delivery with the RNR risk principle framework…The dependent/follower profile…was characterized by the lowest risk for reoffending in the sample, consisting primarily of youth with a moderate level of risk…Thus, youth with this personality profile may benefit from moderate intensity community-based supervision and treatment targeting their dependent tendencies in addition to their criminogenic needs. The internalizing profile…consisted of youths of mainly moderate to high risk for recidivism, meaning that they would likely benefit from a moderate to high level of community-based treatment…Low mood and social withdrawal tendencies, as well as risk needs related to substance use, are likely to be important intervention targets for this group…the externalizing profile represents a predominately high-risk group notable for the lowest level of inhibited traits in comparison to all other groups, as well as unruly traits…this group would likely benefit from high intensity treatment such as offered through a residential or high-intensity community-based program…They may benefit from wrap-around services that are highly coordinated and consistently delivered targeting their overlapping criminogenic and responsivity needs, such as Multisystemic Therapy…” (p. 268).

“Finally, the complex dysregulated profile represents the highest risk group in our sample…They will also likely require intervention in most domains of criminogenic needs, like the externalizing group. However, given the personality profile and risk level of this group, these youths would likely benefit from the highest intensity level of integrated clinical and criminogenic focused intervention. Specifically, learning emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills would be particularly important for this group, and may suggest that interventions incorporating Dialectical Behavior Therapy and/or Trauma Informed Care practices may be especially beneficial…” (p.268)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“…Risk assessment is strongly informed by the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model (Andrews et al., 2006). The four main principles underlying the RNR model are crucial for developing effective interventions for justice-involved persons…the risk, need, and specific and general responsivity principles. The Risk Principle advocates that supervision and intervention intensity be matched to risk of reoffending…The Need Principle states that intervention should target criminogenic needs most relevant to the youth’s reoffending risk, which are categorized into eight domains: offense history, family/parenting circumstances, education/employment, procriminal peer relations, substance abuse, leisure/recreation, personality/behavior, and antisocial attitudes. Criminogenic needs are either static or dynamic in nature…Criminogenic-focused interventions should consider specific responsivity by adjusting treatment to a youth’s unique characteristics (e.g., motivations, deficits, culture), as well as general responsivity through use of evidence-based intervention methods based on social learning/cognitive-behavioral strategies…” (p. 256). “…It is possible that the identified clusters may tap into different developmental pathways. Studies have pointed to a developmental pathway of conduct disorder that reflects the presence of significant emotional dysregulation (especially around anger and negative emotion) in the early conduct problems pathway…possibly consistent with the complex dysregulated profile…Thus, it is possible that the externalizing cluster and complex dysregulated profiles found in the current study are more commonly represented in this stable, high conduct problem pathway, whereas the internalizing and dependent/follower clusters fall in the low conduct pathway where psychopathic traits were less common. This overlap between profiles and developmental trajectories for antisocial behavior remains open to future prospective research” (p. 268-269).

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