Health Systems and Policy Research

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Sex Differences in Risk Factors and Conditions of Incarcerated Violent Offenders

David J. Dausey, Greg Greenberg, Jesse Valasek, Thomas Cook, James Teufel, Lindsay Pilver, Rani Desai

Background: Violence is widely recognized as a major public health problem requiring public policy intervention. Previous studies have not adequately addressed possible sex differences in risk factors and risk conditions of incarcerated violent offenders. Using a large, nationally representative sample of state and federal prisoners, this study tested if sex moderated the association between risk (factors and conditions) and type of adult crime conviction (violent versus nonviolent crime).
Methods: Using the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, self-reported socioeconomic and mental health-related risk factors and background factors were obtained for a cross-section of N=16,152 incarcerated adults in stratified sample state and federal prisons located in the United States. The sample was weighted to reflect the population of prisoners.
Results: Parental substance abuse, a history of physical abuse or sexual abuse, depression symptoms, and psychosis symptoms all distinguished incarcerated violent offenders from incarcerated non-violent offenders regardless of sex. A history of sexual abuse was particularly high in men compared to women among incarcerated violent offenders but not among non-violent offenders.
Conclusion: This study highlights the fact that regardless of sex, childhood background, reports of abuse, and select mental health disorders predicted the type of crime that resulted in incarceration as an adult. Findings support path dependence of type of criminal incarceration of adults. The predictors distinguishing violent and non-violent crime incarceration are almost identical for males and females. The risk factor distinguishing non-violent crime incarceration is adult drug use. The risk factors distinguishing adults incarcerated for violent crime indicate more social and environmental vulnerability as children, increased likelihood of abuse, and greater burden of psychosis and depression. This study supports that the treatment foci for violent and nonviolent prisoners should differ by type of crime but not by sex given type of crime.