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Histories Of Childhood Trauma Highly Prevalent Amongst Prison Inmates


Those who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma are far more likely to be incarcerated as adults than those individuals who were fortunate enough to experience relatively stable and secure childhoods (all else being equal).



For example, a study carried out by Wolff and Shi found that  56% of a sample of 4000 male prisoners had suffered physical trauma during their childhoods. Furthermore, in the same study, there was found a high proportion of inmates who had suffered emotional abuse as children including abandonment, rejection, humiliation, hostility, frequent and unreasonable criticism, intimidation, and indifference; of these forms of emotional abuse, abandonment was found to be particularly predictive of incarceration as an adult (indeed, more than a quarter of the prison inmates in the study had suffered abandonment as children).



In relation to the issue of childhood abandonment, the authors of the study also highlighted the fact that those abandoned as children not infrequently found themselves abandoned again (by both family and friends) when imprisoned, thus triggering in their memories and emotions connected with their original childhood abandonment – the inevitable result of this is that the psychological problems they are likely to have developed as a result of this original childhood abandonment are yet further compounded by this further experience of abandonment as an incarcerated adult.


How Does Childhood Trauma Make Individuals More Likely To End Up In Jail?


There are many reasons why the experience of childhood trauma increases a person’s risk of going to jail as an adult; these include:

Implications :


Because many of the behaviors that bring individuals into conflict with the law are linked to these individuals’ experience of trauma during their childhoods, Wolff and Shi suggest that it would be of benefit to screen inmates for psychiatric disorders linked to childhood trauma (such as complex posttraumatic stress disorder) and then to offer inmates who could benefit from it trauma-informed therapy.


Read next:

The Vital Need To Address Childhood Trauma In Prisoner Rehabilitation


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).