What Trauma Looks Like for Incarcerated Men: A Study of Men’s Lifetime Trauma Exposure in Two State Prisons
Objective: While it is understood that high rates of trauma exposure are common among incarcerated male populations, there is limited data on the nature of the trauma exposure. This study sought to develop foundational knowledge about the trauma experiences of incarcerated men in order to provide a basis for further theory building in this area.
Method: This study used a quantitative-qualitative approach to examine the trauma histories of a randomly selected sample of 67 men incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Results: The analyses revealed several patterns among study participants, including near universal trauma exposure in adolescence with the most frequent exposures involving witnessing or being proximate to violent deaths of family and friends. The mean age of exposure for all trauma exposure types measured was 17 years old. We found that for this group of incarcerated men, trauma exposures in childhood tended to result more from community violence than child maltreatment (e.g., abuse and neglect by caregivers).
Conclusion: The study results suggested that further research may be needed into the effects of close proximity to violent death during this particular window in adolescent development. Neuroscience research has shown that this is a “sensitive period” in brain development with potential negative outcomes in early adulthood, including emotional regulation deficits that can potentially lead to increased risk of arrest. Further research on trauma exposure within this population is needed both to appropriately serve men while in prison or in the process of reentering society and to support efforts to reduce mass incarceration.