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Childhood Adversity, Mental Health, and Violent Crime

Brewer-Smyth, Kathleen PhD, RN, CRRN, FAAN1; Cornelius, Monica E. PhD2; Pickelsimer, E. Elisabeth DA3

doi: 10.1097/JFN.0000000000000062
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ABSTRACT Background: Little is understood about childhood traumatic brain injury (TBI) and lifetime violent crime perpetration.

Objectives: The purpose was to evaluate TBI before the age of 15 years and other childhood environmental factors, mental health, and lifetime history of committing a violent crime.

Methods: A cross-sectional study of 636 male and female offenders from a southeastern state prison population was conducted using Chi-squared tests, t tests, and logistic regression to determine factors associated with ever committing a violent crime.

Results: Committing a violent crime was associated with male gender, younger age, greater childhood sexual abuse (CSA), greater childhood emotional abuse, no TBI by the age of 15 years, and greater neighborhood adversity during childhood.

Discussion: Although TBI has been related to violent and nonviolent crime, this study showed that absence of TBI by the age of 15 years was associated with lifetime violent crime when adjusting for CSA, childhood emotional abuse, and neighborhood adversity during childhood. This builds upon neurobehavioral development literature suggesting that CSA and the stress of violence exposure without direct physical victimization may play a more critical role in lifetime violent criminal behavior than childhood TBI. Violence risk reduction must occur during childhood focusing on decreasing adversity, especially violence exposure as a witness as well as a direct victim.

Author Affiliations:1University of Delaware; 2Medical University of South Carolina; and 3Department of Public Health Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina.

Cooperative Agreement No. U49CE001318 from the Division of Injury Response, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely the authors’ and should not be construed as representing the opinions of CDC or any agency of the Federal Government.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Kathleen Brewer-Smyth, PhD, RN, CRRN, FAAN, McDowell Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716. E-mail: kbsmyth@udel.edu.

Received August 21, 2014; accepted for publication December 19, 2014.

© 2015 by the International Association of Forensic Nurses. All rights reserved.
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