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    Volume 44, Issue 4 (July 1999)

    Psychiatric Aspects of Arsonists

    (Received 21 April 1998; accepted 19 October 1998)


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    Arson is a major source of property damage, injury and death in the United States. Many people who commit arson have extensive psychiatric histories and symptoms at the time of their fire-setting. However, traditionally the law enforcement community and the mental health community have not shared information about the characteristics of people who set fires.

    This study examined mental health records and/or prison files from 283 arsonists. 90% of arsonists had recorded mental health histories, and of those 36% had the major mental illness of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 64% were abusing alcohol or drugs at the time of their firesetting. Pyromania was only diagnosed in three of the 283 cases.

    Different motives for setting fires are discussed: many patients were both angry and delusional. A survey instrument, which captures both psychiatric and legal data, is included. Suggestions are made for gathering future “profiling” information. A matrix approach to coding diagnosis and behavior is presented.

    Author Information:

    Ritchie, EC
    Chief, Forensic Psychiatry, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC

    Huff, TG
    Violent Crime Case Analyst, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Quantico, VA

    Stock #: JFS14546J


    DOI: 10.1520/JFS14546J

    Title Psychiatric Aspects of Arsonists
    Symposium ,
    Committee E30