Critical Issues  -  Abuse / Trauma

From: National Corrections Journal, 172879, April 1999

Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings
Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers

By Caroline Wolf Harlow, Ph.D., BJS Statistician

In recent surveys completed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 19% of State prison inmates, 10% of Federal inmates, and 16% of those in local jails or on active probation told interviewers they had been physically or sexually abused before their current sentence. Just under half of the women in correctional populations and a tenth of the men indicated past abuse. The survey questions largely relied on respondents to define for themselves physical and sexual abuse.

For women, abuse as children more likely in correctional than general population

Between 6% and 14% of male offenders and between 23% and 37% of female offenders reported they had been physically or sexually abused before age 18. For the general U.S. population, prevalence estimates of child abuse vary, depending on definitions, types of questions, selection of study subjects, and response rates. A review of 16 studies estimated that for the general adult population 5% to 8% of males and 12% to 17% of females were abused as children.

Sources of data: In four BJS surveys--the 1997 Surveys of Inmates in State or Federal Correctional Facilities, the 1996 Survey of Inmates in Local Jails, and the 1995 Survey of Adults on Probation--offenders selected through nationally representative samples responded to questions in hour-long interviews. These offenders reported past physical or sexual abuse, offense histories, drug and alcohol use, and personal and family characteristics.

Highlights

Prior abuse of correctional populations, by sex

Percent experiencing abuse before sentence

Ever abused before admission

Total

Male

Female

Before 18 Male

Before 18 Female

State prison inmates

18.7%

16.1%

57.2%

14.4%

36.7%

Federal prison inmates

9.5

7.2

39.9

5.8

23.0

Jail inmates

16.4

12.9

47.6

11.9

36.6

Probationers

15.7

9.3

40.4

8.8

28.2

Physically abused

State prison inmates

15.4%

13.4%

46.5%

11.9%

25.4%

Federal prison inmates

7.9

6.0

32.3

5.0

14.7

Jail inmates

13.3

10.7

37.3

--

--

Probationers

12.8

7.4

33.5

--

--

Sexually abused

State prison inmates

7.9%

5.8%

39.0%

5.0%

25.5%

Federal prison inmates

3.7

2.2

22.8

1.9

14.5

Jail inmates

8.8

5.6

37.2

--

--

Probationers

8.4

4.1

25.2

--

--

Abuse / Trauma Abuse / Trauma


Background and Mission

Directions

Question of the Month