Posttraumatic stress disorder in incarcerated juvenile delinquents

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1997 Mar;36(3):357-65. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199703000-00014.


Objective: To assess the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in severely delinquent subjects and to measure associated personality characteristics.

Method: Eighty-five incarcerated boys (mean age 16.6, SD = 1.2) with mostly violent offenses were studied. The sample was representative of the California Youth Authority population. They received a standard psychiatric screen, a semistructured interview for PTSD, and self-report questionnaires measuring personality traits and defenses. A nonclinical sex- and age-matched group was used for comparing psychometrics.

Results: Subjects suffered from PTSD at higher rates than other adolescent community samples and at higher rates than those found in county probation camps. Thirty-two percent fulfilled criteria for PTSD, 20% partial criteria. One half of the subjects described the witnessing of interpersonal violence as the traumatizing event. Psychometric results converged in the predicted way: Subjects with PTSD showed elevated distress, anxiety, depression, and lowered restraint, impulse control, and suppression of aggression; they had high levels of immature defenses such as projection, somatization, conversion, dissociation, and withdrawal.

Conclusions: PTSD occurs at high rates in delinquents, and this finding has implications for management and treatment. Personality characteristics that might put individuals at risk for the development of PTSD were identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Prisons*
  • Projection
  • Repression, Psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*