Language functioning, mental health and alexithymia in incarcerated young offenders

Pamela C. Snow, Mary Woodward, Monique Mathis, Martine B. Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Previous studies describe high rates of language impairment in young offenders; however, important correlates such as mental health status and alexithymia have received little attention.
Method: This study describes a cross-sectional study of the language, emotion recognition and mental health of 100 young people completing custodial sentences in New South Wales (Australia). The sample comprised 70 young people from non-indigenous backgrounds (n = 60 male) and 30 from indigenous backgrounds (n = 25 male). The mean age of the sample was 17.1 years. It was hypothesized that, in addition to elevated rates of language impairment, alexithymia would be over-represented in this group. It was further predicted that impoverished language skills would contribute to alexithymia scores.
Result: Only a quarter of the sample overall achieved Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-4) Core Language Scores in the expected range; rates of language impairment were higher in indigenous males than in non-indigenous males and in the females. Alexithymia was present in 59% of the sample, but appeared to be associated with poor mental health, rather than with language impairment.
Conclusion: Interventions for young offenders (e.g. psychological counselling, restorative justice conferencing) should be framed around these difficulties. Validated language measures for use with young indigenous offenders are needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-31
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Speech-Language Pathology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • young offenders
  • language
  • alexithymia

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