Study: Youth in prison have experienced more traumaby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — As warden of a juvenile corrections facility, Kathy Halvorson knows many of the children she supervises have grown up with violence.
A new study bears that out.
The study released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs found 53 percent of children in correctional facilities reported exposure to trauma, compared to 28 percent of youth outside the justice system.
Experiencing and witnessing domestic abuse are the most common traumas reported by both youth in correctional facilities and mainstream schools.
Researchers analyzed data from the Minnesota School Survey, a questionnaire given to 6th, 9th, and 12th graders in Minnesota public schools every three years. In 2010, 131,000 students responded to the survey, including residents of 24 juvenile correctional facilities.
The study also found girls in the juvenile justice system were four times more likely to be subject to violence than boys.
Institutionalized children also were more likely to report sexual abuse perpetrated by someone outside their family than the surveyed children in general.
Co-author Dana Swayze said that trauma can lead to harmful behavior, such as drug and alcohol abuse.
"By looking at what has happened to youth, then you are open to a lot of other solutions that you might not be if you're solely focusing on their behavior and what they're doing in the here and now," Swayze said.
Kathy Halvorson, warden of the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Red Wing said her staff tries to identify the children who've experienced trauma.
"A lot of the things that are identified as traumatic experiences — you know the domestic violence, sexual abuse — are things that we have known about for a long time," Halvorson said. "I'm not sure this is exactly new information. But it's certainly always good to be reminded of it, and to make sure that we're always cognizant to address those issues."
Halvorson says one of the best ways to protect children in the justice system is to place them with families before turning to institutional options.