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Investigating the relationship between aggressive behaviour in prison, parole release decisions and violent recidivism

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posted on 28.02.2017, 03:49 by Mooney, Jessica Lee
Across multiple jurisdictions internationally, the decision to release an offender on parole is at the discretion of parole board members. Investigation of the factors that influence parole release decisions is therefore an important focus for empirical research. Existing research indicates that aggressive behaviour during imprisonment is among the factors considered by parole boards, and may be viewed by board members as an indication of increased risk for future violence. However, research examining the relationship between aggression in custody and violence post-release is somewhat limited. Extant research suggests there is a significant association between aggressive misconduct in custody and violent recidivism; yet the strength of this relationship varies. Several processes may influence the expression and detection of aggressive behaviour in custody. These include environmental factors that may encourage or discourage aggression, an offender’s development of skills to avoid the detection of aggressive misconduct, and the process of adaptation to the prison environment that has been observed in incarcerated offenders. These processes complicate the use of institutional behaviour in violence risk assessments and suggest the presence or absence of aggressive misconduct may not provide an accurate indication of an offender’s risk for future violence. The Offence Analogue and Offence Reduction Behaviour Rating Guide (Gordon & Wong, 2009) provides a structured methodology for monitoring behaviour during imprisonment that may be indicative of ongoing criminogenic needs linked to violence (Offence Analogue Behaviour; OAB) or prosocial behavioural change (Offence Reduction Behaviour; ORB). This tool was designed as a supplement to the Violence Risk Scale (VRS, Wong & Gordon, 2000) and is yet to be empirically validated. Against this background, three empirical studies were conducted utilising a sample of violent offenders incarcerated in Victoria, Australia, and subsequently released into the community. Pre-release data was collected via retrospective file review and outcome data relating to parole cancellation and violent criminal charges was collected from the official records of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria and Victoria Police. The first research aim was to identify variables associated with 1) the parole release decisions made by the Adult Parole Board of Victoria and 2) the cancellation of an offender’s parole order. Of particular interest was the role of aggressive misconduct, which was one of a larger set of demographic, criminal history, offence-related, institutional and parole-related variables examined. Bivariate data analysis illustrated that aggressive misconduct was among several variables significantly associated with the parole decision. At the multivariate level the release recommendations of Community Corrections Officers and violence risk, as measured by the VRS, remained significant predictors; however, aggressive misconduct did not. Further investigation revealed that aggressive misconduct was also significantly associated with release recommendations provided by Community Corrections Officers to the parole board. Aggressive misconduct was not among the factors significantly related to parole cancellation in bivariate analyses. At the multivariate level, only family support remained a significant predictor. The second research aim was to investigate whether aggressive misconduct during imprisonment was significantly associated with violent criminal charges following release into the community when controlling for violence risk. The findings illustrated that offenders who were aggressive on three or more occasions during imprisonment were charged with a violent offence sooner than those with no recorded aggressive misconduct. There was no significant difference in the time to violent charge for offenders who were aggressive on one or two occasions compared to offenders with no recorded aggressive misconduct. A proportion of offenders who were not aggressive in custody went on to reoffend violently, whereas some offenders who were aggressive on three or more occasions did not go on to reoffend violently. The third research aim was to examine whether the OABs and ORBs comprised in the Offence Analogue and Offence Reduction Behaviour Rating Guide could be identified and recorded during imprisonment, and secondly, to establish whether these behaviours were associated with violent criminal charges post-release. The results of this study showed that OABs and ORBs can be identified during imprisonment, and some of these behaviours are significantly associated with time to violent charge following release. Most of the significant predictors were ORBs indicating prosocial behavioural improvement. Together these findings highlight that aggressive misconduct during imprisonment influences parole release decision making. However, release recommendations provided by Community Corrections Officers and violence risk level are more influential. The results indicate that repeated aggressive misconduct is associated with violent recidivism. However, official records of misconduct provide limited information to aide risk assessments and release decision making. The Offence Analogue and Offence Reduction Behaviour Rating Guide may prove a useful supplement to formal violence risk assessment procedures in incarcerated offenders. Although, prospective empirical scrutiny of this measure is required. The results highlight the importance of looking beyond the presence or absence of aggressive misconduct when using institutional behaviour to inform risk appraisals, and attending to evidence of prosocial behavioural change. These findings hold important implications for release decision makers and clinicians charged with the task of assessment, management and reduction of violence risk in custodial settings.


Principal supervisor

Michael Daffern

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychology and Psychiatry

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences