Why is orange the new black for female victims of trauma?

How do pathways to jail vary for females who are victims of specific types of trauma? New research published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, a SAGE journal, pinpoints the types of trauma such as caregiver violence, witnessing violence, and intimate partner violence, that lead to specific types of offending later in life and offers explanations based on real experiences.

Researchers Dana DeHart, Shannon Lynch, Joanne Belknap, and Bonnie Green conducted life-history interviews with 115 female inmates from five U.S. states and found the following patterns:

  • Intimate partner violence increased women's risks for property crimes, drug offending, and commercial sex work. These relationships often related to intimate involvement with violent men who fluctuated between roles as the women's co-offenders, drug dealers, and pimps.
  • Witnessing violence increased risks for property crimes, fighting, and use of weapons. These relationships often stemmed from affiliation with criminal networks, and often women's use of weapons or aggression arose from efforts to protect themselves or others.
  • Experiences of caregiver violence increased risk of running away as a teen. Runaway youth often enact this behavior as a means of escaping intolerable maltreatment at home.

The researchers wrote, "The research is critical to development of gender-responsive programming, alternatives to incarceration, and problem-solving court initiatives that address girls' and women's specific needs."

The researchers also found that the women they interviewed had high rates of , especially serious (50%) such as , bipolar disorders, or psychotic spectrum disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (51%), and/or substance use disorder (85%).

"Existing studies note that many offenders with serious mental illness are not identified as mentally ill upon entry into the system," the authors wrote. "Given that 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."

More information: "Life-History Models of Female Offending: The Roles of Serious Mental Illness and Trauma in Women's Pathways to Jail," in Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2013.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Jailed women have high rates of mental illness

Oct 25, 2012

Women in jail have high rates of serious mental illness, post-traumatic stress and substance use disorders, yet most jails are limited in their capacity to provide mental health treatment, according to a national study.

Link between intimate partner violence and depression

May 07, 2013

Not only are women who have experienced violence from their partner (intimate partner violence) at higher risk of becoming depressed, but women who are depressed may also be at increased risk of experiencing intimate partner ...

Domestic violence and perinatal mental health

May 28, 2013

Women who have mental health disorders around the time of birth are more likely to have previously experienced domestic violence, according to a study by UK researchers published in this week's PLOS Medicine.

Recommended for you

Social ties matter beyond bushfires

3 hours ago

In the first major release of findings from the Beyond Bushfires study of the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, researchers from the University of Melbourne have been able to show the social element ...

Mom's prenatal hardship turns baby's genes on and off

4 hours ago

In January 1998 five days of freezing rain collapsed the electrical grid of the Canadian province of Québec. The storm left more than 3 million people without electricity for anywhere from a few hours to ...

Smoking rates high among people with psychotic illness

4 hours ago

The rate of smoking among people in Adelaide's northern suburbs who suffer from a psychotic illness is much greater than the national average and is contributing to other major health problems, according to new research from ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.