Background The gender gap for violent offending is narrowing in the general population. Substance abuse and mental health problems are known risk factors for criminality. While substance abuse treatment has been associated with reduced risk of re-offending, women seem less likely to engage than men. People misusing substances tend to be high users of emergency room (ER) services. Such use may be an indicator both of treatment failure for substance misuse and offending. Little is known about gender differences in this respect.
Aims This study aims to test for gender differences in re-offending, use of substance abuse treatment, and hospital ER visits among offenders referred for forensic psychiatric assessment in Sweden.
Method The study used a longitudinal retrospective design. Data on all 31 women from a 2-year (2000–2001) cohort of serious offenders referred for forensic psychiatric assessment in Stockholm county, and 31 men from the same cohort, were extracted from forensic service and national records. Selection of the men was by initial random sampling followed by matching on age and substance misuse. The two resulting samples were compared on health service use and re-offending data between release and the census date (30 April 2004).
Results There were no gender differences for violent re-offending or for engagement in planned substance abuse treatment, in spite of longer time at risk for the men. Re-offending was reduced for women but not men who did not present in the ER with physical health problems.
Conclusions Our study is limited by sample size, although it included all women referred to the specialist forensic psychiatric service over 2 years, but it does indicate that differences between men and women in this situation are likely, and worthy of further study. The only way of achieving adequate sample sizes is likely to be through multi-centre collaboration. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.