Neurologic and neuroendocrine correlates of violent criminal behavior of female inmates

Kathleen Brewer-Smyth, University of Pennsylvania


Although neurologic findings have been reported in as many as 100% of violent death row inmates, prior to this research no similar studies of the general female incarcerated population have been found. Women are vulnerable to abuse, potentially resulting in neurologic changes associated with both physical and emotional trauma. Such traumatic experiences have been correlated in previous studies with a dysregulated neuroendocrine stress response of cortisol production by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which could contribute to violent or criminal behavior. This is the first similar study in a women's correctional institution. ^ Female inmates (N = 120) and 12 noncriminal control females were evaluated for their history of having been a victim of abuse, neurologic history and examination findings, depression, and cortisol levels in order to determine the association of these variables as potential risk factors for violent or nonviolent criminal convictions. Logistic regression statistical analysis revealed the high number of histories of brain injuries with loss of consciousness and suicide attempts as well as the low levels of AM cortisol to be significantly associated with violent in comparison to nonviolent criminal convictions. Of the 120 inmates sampled, 96% were found to have neurologic problems, which was significantly higher than the small sample of noncriminal controls. This study provides valuable information in the ongoing investigation of neuropathophysiologic correlates in the, cycle of violence in order to provide a scientific basis for rehabilitation, as perpetrators of violent crimes have often been victims prior to their crimes. ^

Subject Area

Biology, Neuroscience|Health Sciences, Nursing|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Brewer-Smyth, Kathleen, "Neurologic and neuroendocrine correlates of violent criminal behavior of female inmates" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3003603.