Pathways to prison for female trauma victims

The specific type of trauma a female offender has experienced in her life influences the types of crime she commits, according to a new study.

A team of researchers from the University of South Carolina, Idaho State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and Georgetown University Medical School interviewed 115 female inmates. They found high rates of mental health disorders, including major depression, PTSD, psychotic spectrum disorders and substance use, and also noted the following patterns:

  • Women who experienced intimate partner violence were more likely to be arrested for property crimes, drug offences or commercial sex work.
  • Women who had witnessed violence had a higher risk for property crimes, fighting and weapon use.

The authors point to the current research, which shows that mental illness is frequently not identified when an offender enters the system. They argue that for prison-based behavioral health treatment programs to be successful, a better understanding is needed of the underlying factors that drive female trauma victims to commit crimes.

The study, “Life History Models of Female Offending: The Roles of Serious Mental Illness and Trauma in Women’s Pathways to Jail,” was published online this month in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly