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Trauma and Stress Among Older Adults in Prison: Breaking the Cycle of Silence

Deborah Courtney and Tina Maschi

Traumatology

March 2013, vol. 19, no. 1, 73-81

 

Abstract

Research consistently shows that incarcerated juveniles and adults experience high levels of prior traumatic experiences and stressful life events. Yet there is a gap in the literature addressing incarcerated older adults' life-course experiences of traumatic and stressful life events and their initial and current subjective interpretations of these events. Given that untreated trauma has been linked to decreased health and mental well-being, and recidivism, the current study attempts to address this gap. A secondary data analysis was conducted of the Risk and Resilience Study on older adults in prison. It used a cross-sectional correlation design from an anonymous self-report, self-administered survey of a sample of 667 incarcerated older adults with a mean age of 56.5 years. Cumulative trauma (objective and subjective) was measured using the Life Stressors Checklist-Revised (LSC-R). Up to 70% of participants reported at least one of 31 types of lifetime traumatic or stressful events occurring in childhood and/or adulthood. On average, they also reported higher degrees of current subjective distress about being a victim as opposed to a witness of violence or other stressful experiences. This study helps to break the cycle of silence of trauma and stress among older adults in prison. The complex trauma histories and resulting needs of older adults in prison are a significant public health challenge that must be addressed. Specialized trauma-informed assessment and intervention strategies that may work more effectively with this sensitive population, especially in the challenging prison environment, are discussed.

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