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National Study of Childhood Traumatic Events and Adolescent and Adult Criminal Justice Involvement Risk: Evaluating the Protective Role of Social Support From Mentors During Adolescence

J Clin Psychiatry 2019;80(5):18m12347
10.4088/JCP.18m12347

Objective: With nearly 11 million people in the United States arrested in 2015, the need to identify antecedent risk factors driving criminal justice involvement (CJI) and possible mitigating factors is crucial. This study examines the relation between childhood trauma and CJI in adolescence and adulthood and assesses how this relation is moderated by mentoring during young adulthood.

Methods: The analysis included 3 waves of data—adolescents, young adults, and adults—collected from 1995 to 2008 from 12,288 adolescents who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7 to 12. Logistic regression was used to examine how having a close mentor in adolescence moderated the relation between criminal justice involvement and 9 childhood traumatic events: (1) neglect, (2) emotional abuse, (3) physical abuse, (4) sexual abuse, (5) parental incarceration, (6) parental binge drinking, (7) witnessed violence, (8) threatened with violence, and (9) experienced violence.

Results: Cumulative exposure to childhood trauma was associated with CJI in adolescence (adjusted odds ratios [AORs] ranging from 2.24 to 25.98) and adulthood (AOR range, 1.82–6.69), and parental incarceration was consistently one of the, if not the, most strongly associated with each form of CJI; the strength of these associations was weakened for those who reported a close mentor compared to those who did not.

Conclusions: This study advances the literature regarding trauma and CJI, highlighting the role of social support and mentorship as protective factors for youth who experience childhood trauma. Interventions aimed at protecting vulnerable children from the harms of trauma should be the next priority.