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Trauma, Stress, Health, and Mental Health Issues among Ethnically Diverse Older Adult Prisoners

Sabrina Haugebrook, Kristen M. Zgoba, Tina Maschi, Keith Morgen, and Derek Brown (2010), Trauma, Stress, Health, and Mental Health Issues among Ethnically Diverse Older Adult Prisoners. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 16(3): 220-229.

Serious gaps exist in the information available on the health and mental health issues confronting older prisoners, especially for those from ethnically diverse backgrounds. “The purpose of this study,” reports this research team from the New Jersey Department of Corrections and the Fordham University School of Social Service, is to identify and describe “the patterns of trauma, life event stressors, and comorbid health and mental health issues among a sample of older prisoners from African-American, Caucasian, and Latino backgrounds.”

Haugebrook et al. frame their reporting within the theoretical frameworks of general strain theory, which focuses on how criminality is affected by “maladaptive emotional and psychological responses,” and of life course perspectives, which show how significant life events such as trauma affect mental and physical health and criminal behavior over people’s life course. Their research sample consists of information gathered from approximately 250 New Jersey Department of Corrections case files for young and older offenders. For this article, the researchers used 114 case files of older offenders, which were searched for information on lifetime trauma such as physical and sexual abuse; on life event stressors, such as the deaths of significant others, school problems, divorces or loss of jobs; and on specific mental health, substance abuse, and health problems.

The authors of this article found that older offenders are a diverse lot. They averaged 55 years of age. Nearly one-half of them were African-American, with Latino/Latina prisoners comprising 16% of the sample. Over 90% were male and about one-third of them had military experience.

Trauma was a common experience for nearly 89% of these men and women, with Latinos/ Latinas, Caucasians, and African-Americans, in this rank order, having the most significant levels of traumatic and stressor experiences. Traumatic events were more common in the sample’s adult years rather than in their childhood years. Life event stressors were more common than traumatic events. The most common trauma and life stressor events were sexual or physical abuse, neglect and psychological mistreatment, parental divorce or separation, parental abandonment or death, and parental substance abuse. Caucasians in the sample were more likely than African-Americans or Latinos/ Latinas to have experienced abuse and neglect in their childhood years. Caucasians were also more likely to have experienced traumatic or life stressor events in both their childhood and adult years. All three population groups have significant medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems. Mental health problems were more salient among Caucasians in the sample than in African-Americans and Latinos/ Latinas.

Posted Fri, Jan 28 2011 9:01 AM by Tracey Vessels


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