Childhood trauma as a predictor of reoffending

  • Madeleine Dalsklev

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


(1) Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse as Predictors of Reoffending: A Systematic Review Abstract: Background: Experiences of childhood trauma, such as physical and sexual abuse are common among offender populations, and a trauma history is related to increases in the risk of criminal conduct. Previous reviews on the link between childhood trauma and reoffending are limited in scope as they only investigate adolescent populations. Objective: The aim of the current systematic review was to explore the association between childhood physical and sexual abuse and its prediction on actual reoffending rates in adult population(s). Method: Four databases (PsycINFO, Web of Science, PubMed and PILOTS) were searched and the final included articles were quality assessed by two reviewers. Results: 3,151 studies were identified, and 13 met the a priori eligibility criteria. Most of the studies obtained high quality ratings. Conclusion: A narrative synthesis of the results suggest that childhood physical and sexual abuse are generally high among the prison population and tend to be even higher among those who reoffend. A substantial number of studies found that childhood physical and sexual abuse predict reoffending, and the majority of the studies found a positive direction for this association, albeit of a small magnitude. These findings suggest that prisons should consider trauma-informed assessment and rehabilitation of offenders. (2) Childhood Trauma as a Predictor of Reoffending in a Northern Irish Probation Sample Abstract: Background: It is well-documented that there is a high prevalence rate of childhood trauma experiences among the prison population, and studies have found a link between childhood trauma and later acts of violence. Objective: The aim of the current study was to investigate whether childhood trauma (i.e., physical, sexual, emotional abuse and physical neglect) among offenders who have served a life sentence in Northern Ireland was associated with general and violent reoffending patterns. The study also explored the relationship between childhood trauma resulting from the sectarian conflict “The Troubles” in the region and its impact on reoffending. Method: The casefiles of 100 offenders were coded for trauma experiences and official reoffending data was extracted. Logistic regression analysis was performed to explore the relationship between trauma and reoffending. Results: The most common form of childhood trauma were emotional abuse and/or emotional neglect (n=43), conflict-related trauma (n=43) and physical abuse (n=40). Only age (OR .91) and conflict-related trauma (OR 5.57) emerged as significant predictors (p<.05) of general reoffending at any time post release. Similarly, only age (OR .92) and conflict-related trauma (OR 4.47) emerged as significant predictors (p<.05) of violent reoffending. Although it did not reach significance (p = .09), childhood physical abuse was related to an increase in the odds of violently reoffending, of a large magnitude (OR 4.09). Conclusions: Conflict-related trauma significantly predicted general and violent reoffending among offenders with previous violent convictions.
Date of AwardDec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMartin Dempster (Supervisor) & Donncha Hanna (Supervisor)

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