Childhood and adult trauma experiences of incarcerated persons and their relationship to adult behavioral health problems and treatment

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012 May;9(5):1908-26. doi: 10.3390/ijerph9051908. Epub 2012 May 18.


Rates of childhood and adult trauma are high among incarcerated persons. In addition to criminality, childhood trauma is associated with the risk for emotional disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety) and co-morbid conditions such as alcohol and drug abuse and antisocial behaviors in adulthood. This paper develops rates of childhood and adult trauma and examines the impact of age-of-onset and type-specific trauma on emotional problems and behavior for a sample of incarcerated males (N~4,000). Prevalence estimates for types of trauma were constructed by age at time of trauma, race and types of behavioral health treatment received while incarcerated. HLM models were used to explore the association between childhood and adult trauma and depression, anxiety, substance use, interpersonal problems, and aggression problems (each model estimated separately and controlling for age, gender, race, time incarcerated, and index offense). Rates of physical, sexual, and emotional trauma were higher in childhood than adulthood and ranged from 44.7% (physical trauma in childhood) to 4.5% (sexual trauma in adulthood). Trauma exposure was found to be strongly associated with a wide range of behavioral problems and clinical symptoms. Given the sheer numbers of incarcerated men and the strength of these associations, targeted intervention is critical.

Keywords: behavioral health; childhood trauma; incarcerated men; trauma exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*