Video: Step Inside the Circle

This powerful video brings to life the correlation between complex trauma and a percentage of the prison population. In research published by the Ministry of Justice Research in 2012, drawing from a longitudinal study by Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR),  Overall, 24% (347 prisoners) stated that they lived with foster parents or in an institution, or had been taken into care at some point when they were a child. This compares, as shown in the same report with an earlier study of young offenders where 27% of young men (n=1,052) reported having spent some time in care. 

Twenty-nine per cent of SPCR prisoners stated that they had experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child. Women (53%) were more likely to report having experienced some sort of abuse than men (27%). Forty-one per cent of SPCR prisoners said that they had observed violence at home as a child. This scenario is, unsurprisingly, international, which is commented on in the following research.

From trauma to incarceration: exploring the trajectory in a qualitative study in male prison inmates from north Queensland, Australia (2016)

Bronwyn Honorato, Nerina Caltabiano & Alan R. Clough


There is evidence that childhood trauma is a determinant of aggression in incarcerated populations. For example, in an Italian study of 540 prisoners, Sarchiapone et al. (2009) suggested that childhood trauma represents a developmental determinant that may interact with genetic factors to predispose prisoners to aggression. Further study is required, however, to generalize these findings to the wider, non-forensic, mixed-gender population. Additionally, Carlson and Shafer (2010) studied the trauma histories and stressful life events of 2279 inmates in Arizona, United States of America (USA). They found high rates of exposure to traumatic events, especially child abuse, across gender and ethnic groups. Other research shows youth involved in the criminal justice system typically have extremely high rates of trauma exposure from early life (Dierkhising et al. 2013; Ko et al. 2008). Furthermore, incarceration itself holds the risk of continued trauma and abuse, with traumatized youth more likely to reoffend as a juvenile or an adult, and to have poor long-term economic, academic and mental health outcomes (Justice Policy Institute 2009; Widom and Maxfield 1996).

This strong correlation between Early childhood trauma, other Adverse Childhood Experiences and incarceration needs urgently to be addressed. The path into the Justice System for those that have experienced complex trauma, is costly for the state as well as the individual, leaving aside these likelihood of PTSD, drug and alcohol dependence, mental health problems (including Dissociative Identity Disorder and depression). Please join IRCT and help to change minds and mindsets to promote more effective assessment, long term interventions, understanding of childhood trauma and better outcomes.