Risk of trauma exposure among persons with mental illness in jails and prisons: what do we really know? Academic Article Review uri icon


  • Traumatic victimization, particularly sexual abuse, is a serious problem in correctional facilities and those suffering from mental illnesses are especially vulnerable. This review examines our current knowledge regarding trauma victimization among persons with mental illness serving time in jails/prisons, considers methodological challenges, and provides recommendations for future research.Traumatic victimization, particularly sexual abuse, has consistently been identified as a high-frequency problem within jails and prisons. Lifetime, 6-month, and 12-month prevalence rates of physical and sexual violence among incarcerated people are quite high relative to nonincarcerated populations, and women report much higher rates of most traumatic events than men. Moreover, data show that inmates with mental illnesses are up to eight times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than nonmentally ill inmates.Additional research is needed to improve our understanding of this issue and inform change efforts. Future research should include: epidemiological studies to improve our knowledge of risk factors and correlates of victimization; prospective studies to determine causality between trauma victimization and mental illness or other adverse outcome; and intervention studies to examine strategies for reducing violence and traumatic victimization inside correctional facilities, effective treatments for posttraumatic psychopathology, and improved re-entry outcomes.

publication date

  • September 2011