Document Type


Publication Date



Previous research shows a link between abuse histories and negative outcomes, including a relationship between abuse victimization and mental illness and/or substance use disorder and between such victimization and criminal behavior. The relationship between abuse and offending or reoffending is likely indirect, working by way of mental illness and/or substance use disorder. However, the effects of these abuse experiences prior to incarceration as well as the impact of abuse perpetrator type and abuse timing on mental health and substance use outcomes have been underexplored in jail populations. The current analysis addresses this gap. From February 21st, 2017 to September 12th, 2017, people admitted to jail were screened by intake staff, and these assessments supplemented administrative admissions data. Assessments included 79 questions developed by jail administrators and a research team of faculty research partners. A total of 4,713 individuals were admitted to the jail, including people detained for pretrial purposes and those convicted and sentenced to jail. The majority of the population (72.3%) reported no history of abuse, but 17.5% indicated a history of physical abuse, 3.2% a history of sexual abuse, and 10.0% a history of polyvictimization (both physical and sexual abuse). Further, 43.6% of jailed individuals had a high level of an internalizing disorder while 19.4% had a high level of an externalizing disorder. Lastly, 28.5% of the population had a substance use disorder. We found evidence to suggest that a history of physical abuse has similar effects for men and women on the likelihood of internalizing disorders but that a history of sexual abuse had a larger influence on women. Polyvictimization also predicted internalizing disorders for men and women. Similarly, a history of physical abuse resulted in greater odds of externalizing disorders across sex, but a history of sexual abuse significantly predicted externalizing disorders for women only. In contrast, polyvictimization predicted greater odds of externalizing disorders for men. A history of victimization was largely unrelated to substance use disorder with the exception of polyvictimization reported by men. Regarding the perpetrator of abuse, the strongest effect was found for perpetration by a non-stranger, resulting in greater odds of internalizing disorders (all abuse types) and externalizing disorders (only physical abuse and polyvictimization). A history of victimization by either a non-stranger or stranger was largely unrelated to substance use disorder. For abuse timing, the strongest effects were found for abuse experienced prior to age 18 for internalizing and externalizing disorders. Timing of abuse was largely unrelated to substance use disorder as an outcome. Finally, across analyses, substance use disorder was significantly related to internalizing and externalizing disorders and vice versa. Taken together, we found that a history of physical and/or sexual abuse were significantly associated with mental health outcomes across men and women in jail whereas past research has focused primarily on the link between abuse, mental illness, substance use, and offending/reoffending amongst women. However, a history of abuse was largely unassociated with substance use disorder as an outcome, which is counter to past research in justice-involved youth and people incarcerated in prisons. Instead, our findings suggest that, rather than being an intervening variable between abuse histories and criminal behavior, which appears to be the case for internalizing and externalizing disorders in our study, substance use disorder may not act as an indirect pathway between abuse and offending but may still affect criminal behavior by way of mental illness or vice versa.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.