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Assessing the Relationship Between Exposure to Violence and Inmate Maladjustment Within and Across State Correctional Facilities

NCJ Number
Benjamin Steiner, Ph.D.; Benjamin Meade, Ph.D.
Date Published
September 2012
80 pages
Using data from the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities and the Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, this study examined inmates' pre-incarceration exposure to violence on maladjustment/misconduct within and across correctional facilities in the United States.
The study found that an inmate's exposure to violence prior to incarceration impacted the inmate's maladjustment in prison. It also determined that exposure to some types of violence (e.g., abuse as a child) was more likely to impact inmate maladjustment in prison compared to exposure to other types of violence. The earlier an individual was exposed to violence, the more difficult was adjustment to incarceration. The study drew distinctions in in-prison maladjustment according to exposure to violence as a child, sexual assault by a non-stranger as an adult, and physical assault by a non-stranger as an adult. In addition, the magnitude of the relationships between exposures to different types of violence and some forms of maladjustment in prison varied across facilities. The variation was significantly influenced by facility characteristics. One explanation for this is that some prisons are more capable of preventing inmates from misconduct, particularly repetitive misconduct. Also, facilities with higher proportions of individuals incarcerated for violent offenses had a higher incidence rate for each type of misconduct measure. This suggests that where models of inmate violence are more prevalent, then the influence of pre-incarceration exposure to violence intensifies. Based on the study findings, the authors recommend that past violent victimization be included as a factor in needs assessments intended to determine inmate classifications for treatment and security measures to prevent misconduct. They further suggest that the findings support a learning theory in explaining the effect of prior victimization on inmate misconduct. Models of trauma exposure or post-traumatic stress disorder are also supported. 8 tables, 83 references, and a listing of products for disseminating research findings