Abstract: Cumulative Trauma, Resilience, and the Risk for Recidivism Among Sex Offenders in Prison (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

Cumulative Trauma, Resilience, and the Risk for Recidivism Among Sex Offenders in Prison

Friday, January 15, 2016: 10:15 AM
Meeting Room Level-Meeting Room 16 (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
George Leibowitz, PhD, Chair and Associate Professor, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Tina Maschi, PhD, Associate Professor, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background and purpose:Sexual offenses are a major social problem in the US, resulting in trauma to victims, families and communities. In order to address this problem, understanding the victim-offender overlap is necessary, in that research has shown a high prevalence of trauma among offenders, such as being a victim of and/or witness to physical or sexual assault. Gaining a better understanding of the developmental pathways and the mechanisms linking prior victimization to subsequent criminal offending among sex offenders is important for prevention, treatment and policy related considerations. Moreover, understanding how this association might be buffered by internal and external coping resources (e.g., cognitive and social coping) can help reduce recidivism. The current study explores the associations between cumulative trauma and recidivism, as well as the evidence for individual and social structural factors impacting sexual and violent offending.  

Methods: Cross-sectional correlational mixed methods were used to obtain data from 674 adults (650 men; 24 women) in a Northeastern correctional system to examine sex offenses and violent crimes using culturally responsive questionnaires. Approximately 50% reported sexual victimization during childhood, and they also reported an increased chance of victimization while in prison. Cumulative trauma was measured use the Life Stressors Checklist-Revised (LSC-R; Wolfe et al., 1996). Coping resources was assessed using the Coping Resources Inventory (CRI; Marting & Hammer, 2004) and posttraumatic stress symptoms using the Civilian Version of the Post Traumatic Stress Scale (PCL-C; Weathers et al., 1993).

Results: Using T-tests to assess differences in trauma and coping among sex offenders, non-recidivists were significantly older (p=.012), and had higher coping scores on the social and physical coping scales (p=.04). Recidivists also had much higher mean LSC-R scale scores (p<.001). However, no significant differences were found for the PTSD scales for recidivists and non-recidivists. Results of chi-squares tests for violence, drugs, alcohol use and mental issues showed that recidivists scored significantly higher on all subscales except for mental health. Finally, using binary logistic regression predicting the probability of being a recidivist, having a violent offense (p<.001) and the LSC-R total score (p=.006) were significant.

Conclusions and Implications: Evidence suggests that among the biggest challenges facing social workers and criminal justice professionals to best serve this population are to develop competencies to work effectively at the practice intersection of cumulative trauma, health/mental health, and the criminal justice system. Results from this study show higher levels of life stressors among recidivists, and that having resilience and effective coping strategies can reduce recidivism. Results also suggest ways to plan more effective reentry programming, using principles from restorative justice and trauma-informed approaches that address the psychological response to life course trauma among offenders.