New research finds a link between different types of trauma for women — including caregiver violence, domestic violence and witnessing violence — that can lead to breaking the law later in life and ending up in prison.
Researchers Dana DeHart, Shannon Lynch, Joanne Belknap, and Bonnie Green conducted interviews with 115 female inmates from five U.S. states and found several patterns.
For instance, intimate partner violence increased women’s risks for property crimes, drug use, and commercial sex work. The women were often involved with violent men who had varying roles in their lives, from co-offenders to drug dealers to pimps, the researchers found.
The study also found that witnessing violence increased the risk of committing property crimes, fighting, and using weapons. According to the researchers, the women’s use of weapons or aggression arose from efforts to protect themselves or others.
Experiencing caregiver violence increased the risk of running away as a teen “as a means of escaping intolerable maltreatment at home,” the researchers said.
The researchers also noted that the women they interviewed had high rates of mental health disorders, with 50 percent reporting serious mental illnesses, such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or psychotic spectrum disorders. About 51 percent of the women interviewed had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while 85 percent had a substance abuse problem.
“Existing studies note that many offenders with serious mental illness are not identified as mentally ill upon entry into the system,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.
“Given that mental health problems in offenders are linked to greater likelihood of violent crimes, longer sentences, rule violations, and physical assaults in the corrections environment, greater knowledge and understanding of these offenders and their needs is critical for the success of behavioral health treatment programs, jail management, and correctional staff safety.”