PCLR tests are effective and are great ranges of determining how psychopathic an offender is; however, our ineffective system is not reducing the threats these offenders hold. Instead, we can treat more individuals who suffer from psychopathic tendencies and score lower on these PCLR tests.

By Alexa Bras

Psychopathic Offenders

What Qualifies Someone As A Psychopath, Sociopath, or Antisocial Personality?
  • disregard for the rights of other individuals
  • aggression
  • impulsivity
  • callousness

When it comes to an individual who is suffering from an antisocial personality disorder or is more likely referred to as a psychopath or sociopath, they have a hard time understanding or illustrating empathy. Psychopaths tend to also have strong impulsivity, anger issues, PTSD, and other underlying factors. The major part about psychopaths is that they are individuals who understand that the crimes they are committing are legally and morally wrong; however, they just do not care.

What is the PCLR Test?

The PCLR test, also known as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (GOLD Standard), is a twenty-item measure with a three-point scale quiz designed to rank the level of psychopathy in individuals. This test is on a 40-point scale, with one being the lowest signs of Psychopathy and 40 being the highest.

The PCLR test is used mainly in forensic cases and has been proven to be very reliable with its results in testing psychopathy.

“the findings add more general support for
the validity of psychopathy as a mental disorder, and the PCL-R as
a measure of psychopathy.”

Storey, J. E., Hart, S. D., Cooke, D. J., & Michie, C. (2016). Psychometric properties of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) in a representative sample of Canadian federal offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 40(2), 136–146.

The Treatment of Psychopathy Offenders

Can We Actually Treat Psychopathic Offenders?

In short answer, yes and no.

It always depends on the offender and if they wish to seek help and get better. Treatments are only effective if the offender genuinely has no motive besides wanting to seek help.

There are treatments, the most successful being reward-based treatments where the offenders get a reward for their progression in the course. However, this treatment is very unreliable in determining if an offender can be rehabilitated back into society.

In my personal opinion, how are psychologists and society members able to determine if the treatments are actually effective because these offenders could be faking the effectiveness of their treatment in order to get the reward? I do believe that if the offender is rehabilitated back into society but as time goes on, they will continue to re-offend when no reward is presented, and could cause some serious damage to society and their surroundings.

How Effective Is Treatment for Psychopathic Offenders?

Many studies have shown that treatment is not effective for psychopathic offenders, stating that:

  • “Until there is more evidence that it matters to prognosis (criminal outcome, response to treatment), the existence of subtypes cannot have much relevance to treatment” (Harris 2006)
  • “Our treatment methods are as yet so ineffective that the primary need, not to do further harm, still requires emphasis” (Scott 1960)
  • “However ineffective the treatment may be” (BMJ 1987) 

Treatments can be effective for individuals who are lower ranking on the PCLR tests or those who genuinely wish to seek help; however, many complications can come into place that can affect the rehabilitation of every person involved in treatment.

For example, certain aspects of treatment are “effective for one stage but may be ineffective or even damaging ” in another stage (Wong 2000).

Those individuals who score lower on the PCLR tests are more easily rehabilitated back into society. In studies shown above, it has been stated that the individuals who scored higher on the PCLR tests are likely and are more frequent to return to their criminal ways after rehabilitation and treatment than those who scored on the lower percentile of the PCLR test.

My Personal Takeaway

There is little to no curing or management of these psychopathic individuals. The effectiveness of treatment is so low because no matter what we do, nothing will ultimately change the individual who is committing these crimes unless they themselves want to change and get treatment. Yet we as a society are still wasting our time trying to treat these high-ranking PCLR psychopathic offenders with treatments that do not work, instead of focusing on those who scored lower and have a higher chance of rehabilitation back into society.

An example of a high-ranking PCLR offender is Ted Bundy, who scored 39/40. Ted Bundy scored so high on this reliable test, and after being apprehended multiple times by law enforcement saw no signs of improvement, no reasons for rehabilitation and ultimately never got better. He may have not received treatment but would he even want to receive this treatment? He never showed any remorse for any of his victims! It was proven multiple times that these offenders will not improve and be ready for rehabilitation unless they themselves want to get treatment to improve.

Instead, we should focus on offenders who score on the lower percentile of the PCLR test and can be easily treated back into society. We should take a risk and spend our time getting more individuals out of the prison system by improving those offenders that are actively able to get help.

Want to know where you stand? (not actual PCLR test)

Take this screening test I found online to show where you would stand in a psychopathy test.


BMJ, Managing Psychopathic Offenders. BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL VOLUME 295 . (1987, September 5). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1248766/pdf/bmjcred00036-0046c.pdf

Harris, G. T., & Rice, M. E. (2006). Treatment of Psychopathy: A Review of Empirical Findings. In C. J. Patrick (Ed.), Handbook of psychopathy (pp. 555–572). The Guilford Press

Laurell, J., & Dåderman, A. M. (2005). Recidivism is related to psychopathy (PCL-R) in a group of men convicted of homicide. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 28(3), 255–268. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2004.08.008

Scott, P. D. (1960). The treatment of psychopaths. BMJ, 1(5186), 1641–1646. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.1.5186.1641

Storey, J. E., Hart, S. D., Cooke, D. J., & Michie, C. (2016). Psychometric properties of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) in a representative sample of Canadian federal offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 40(2), 136–146.

Wong, S. (2000). PSYCHOPATHIC OFFENDERS. Violence, Crime and Mentally Disordered Offenders.

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