Robust evidence has accumulated showing that individuals who develop schizophrenia are at elevated risk when compared to the general population to engage in violence towards others. This violence impacts negatively on victims as well as perpetrators and poses a significant financial burden to society. It is posited that among violent offenders with schizophrenia there are three distinct types defined by the age of onset of antisocial and violent behaviour. The early starters display a pattern of antisocial behaviour that emerges in childhood or early adolescence, well before illness onset, and that remains stable across the lifespan. The largest group of violent offenders with schizophrenia show no antisocial behaviour prior to the onset of the illness and then repeatedly engage in aggressive behaviour towards others. A small group of individuals who display a chronic course of schizophrenia show no aggressive behaviour for one or two decades after illness onset and then engage in serious violence, often killing, those who care for them. We hypothesize that both the developmental processes and the proximal factors, such as symptoms of psychosis and drug misuse, associated with violent behaviour differ for the three types of offenders with schizophrenia, as do their needs for treatment.
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