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Early Childhood Victimization Among Incarcerated Adult Male Felons

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 1998
2 pages
Publication Series
Using carefully developed methods for eliciting retrospective reports of childhood abuse and neglect, a new study of inmates in a New York prison found that 68 percent reported some form of childhood victimization, and 23 percent reported experiencing multiple forms of abuse and neglect, including physical and sexual abuse.
The subjects were 301 convicted male felons incarcerated in a New York State medium-security facility. Inmates were randomly selected from a list of those recently incarcerated or transferred and were interviewed before assignment to the general prison population. Overall, 68 percent of the sample reported some form of early childhood victimization before age 12, either physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect. The most common type of reported victimization was physical abuse. Using a measure of "very severe violence," the study found that approximately 35 percent of the sample reported severe childhood physical abuse. Sexual abuse and neglect were less commonly reported and often occurred in combination with other types of abuse. Contrary to expectations, violent and nonviolent offenders reported similar rates of childhood physical abuse, even of very serious forms. Compared to inmates who had not committed sex offenses, sex offenders were more likely to report sexual experiences before age 12. This study found that violent offenders reported more childhood neglect (20 percent) than nonviolent offenders (6 percent). This study reinforces the need to pay more attention to neglected children. What remains unknown is the processes by which these early childhood experiences lead to criminal and violent behavior and the protective factors that move them away from such behavior. Policy implications are discussed.

Date Published: April 1, 1998