The Relationship Between Abusive Experiences and Staff Controls in Juvenile Correctional Facilities: The Mediating Effects of Externalizing Behavior

AuthorJamie R. Yoder,Ashleigh I. Hodge
Date01 October 2017
Published date01 October 2017
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17bRK4cgjQqOQp/input 727796CJBXXX10.1177/0093854817727796Criminal Justice and Behaviorhodge, Yoder / Relationship Between abuse and staff controls
The RelaTionship BeTween aBusive
expeRiences and sTaff conTRols in
Juvenile coRRecTional faciliTies

The Mediating effects of externalizing Behavior
The Ohio State University
Colorado State University
To maintain safety and order, some correctional settings permit the use of controls on youth in response to behavioral prob-
lems; however, use of controls may exacerbate trauma symptoms that many youth bring to the carceral experience. Data from
the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement are used in this study (N = 7,073). Structural equation modeling was used to
test three hypotheses: (a) youth with a history of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse report greater use of staff controls;
(b) externalizing behaviors partially mediate this relationship; and (c) externalizing behavior and staff controls are mutually
reinforcing. Findings suggest that youth with physical and sexual abuse histories experience greater staff controls.
Externalizing behavior was a partial mediator and a reciprocal product of staff controls. Such findings warrant caution for
institutional policies and staff practices that promote the use of control, and instead call for the use of trauma-informed
responses to misbehavior.
Keywords: abuse; adverse childhood experiences; externalizing behavior; incarcerated youth; physical control; isolation;
juvenile correctional facility staff
On any given day, more than 50,000 youths reside in secure placements (Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention [OJJDP], 2016). Although this statistic
has been halved since the mid-1990s (OJJDP, 2016), pervasive institutionalization of young
offenders remains a serious social problem facing the United States. With the largest incar-
ceration rate in the world, the United States places more youth behind bars relative to all
other industrialized countries (Sabol, West, & Cooper, 2009). Incapacitation is reasoned to
auThoRs’ noTe: Special thanks to the reviewers for their valuable feedback on an earlier draft of this
article, and to Dr. Natasha Bowen, professor of social work at The Ohio State University, for sharing her time
and knowledge regarding structural equation modeling (SEM). The authors are happy to share the correlation
matrix associated with the variables used in this study to readers upon request. Correspondence concerning
this article should be addressed to Ashleigh I. Hodge, College of Social Work, The Ohio State University,
Columbus, OH 43210; e-mail:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2017, Vol. 44, No. 10, October 2017, 1281 –1299.
DOI: 10.1177/0093854817727796
© 2017 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology

act as a deterrent, a public safety measure, and a remedial response (gottfredson &
gottfredson, 1994). Therefore, imprisonment of young offenders will likely remain a sen-
tencing option, even with the emergence of smart decarceration initiatives (see grand
Challenges outlined by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, 2017).
The goals of juvenile justice have long been deliberated (gottfredson, Taylor, National
Institute of Justice, & Johns Hopkins University, 1983; Monahan, 1981); a system that bal-
ances punishment with rehabilitation is an ideal model for responding to youthful offending
(Howell, 2003). Juvenile justice-involved youth have higher rates of early life abuse than
the general population (Coleman, 2005; Coleman & Stewart, 2010; Ford, Chapman, Connor,
& Cruise, 2012). However, very few carceral settings are trauma-informed or comprehen-
sively screen for trauma (Crosby, 2016; Donisch, Bray, & gewirtz, 2016; Yoder, Whitaker,
& Quinn, in press). Therefore, staff controls can be applied to youth without consideration
of early life abuse experiences. Some correctional settings have protocols that permit inflic-
tion of harm, other physical punishments, or psychological measures directed toward youth
to maintain control and order within facilities and to prevent behavioral disruptions (Day,
2002; Schwalbe & Maschi, 2011).
Externalizing behaviors are one way that youth manifest emotional responses associated
with abusive experiences (DeLisi et al., 2010). Emotions such as anger and frustration can
showcase themselves as behaviors including, but not limited to, fighting, stealing, destruc-
tion, or refusal to follow rules. Because behavioral problems are often reasoned to be an
impetus for the use of staff controls (Wasterfors, 2009), it may partially explain the relation-
ship between prior abusive experiences and the use of staff controls in correctional settings.
Using an integrated framework of general strain, importation, and deprivation theories, this
study tested the complex relationships between youth reports of disparate abusive experi-
ences and staff physical and isolating controls, and the mediating influence of externalizing
behaviors. This study also tested the mutually reinforcing relationship between staff con-
trols and externalizing behaviors.
liTeRaTuRe Review
GeneRal sTRain TheoRY and aBusive expeRiences
There are several criminological theories from which to contextualize youth offending
and penology. Agnew’s general strain theory (gST) is one optimal framework that consid-
ers the impact of early abusive experiences (Agnew, 1992). gST suggests there are inade-
quate opportunities for disenfranchised groups to meet societal goals, and that delinquent
behavior is both a coping mechanism and an illicit attempt to meet these goals. Agnew
presents three possible sources of societal strain: inability to accomplish goals, removal of
positively valued stimuli, and/or the presence of harmful stimuli (Agnew, 1992). Negative
emotional responses can result if an individual has perceived a strain event as threatening
or harmful (Agnew, 2001, 2013; Broidy & Agnew, 1997). In fact, certain types of strain,
such as experiences of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, increase the likelihood for
negative emotional responses (Agnew, 2001). Emotional responses such as anger and frus-
tration are disinhibiting mechanisms that can manifest as externalizing behaviors, which
often resemble “delinquency” (Agnew, 1992, 2001, 2013).

Direct forms of violence including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse can be identi-
fied as strain among youth (Watts & McNulty, 2013). Youth exposed to such early adverse
childhood experiences face increased risk for juvenile justice involvement (Bennett &
Kerig, 2014; Evans & Burton, 2013; Kerig & Bennett, 2013). Juvenile justice-involved youth
tend to experience early life victimization more frequently than the general population—
including direct or indirect abuse or neglect. For example, 40% to 60% of adjudicated youth
have been victimized (Currie & Tekin, 2006; Ford, Chapman, Mack, & Pearson, 2006;
Stahl, 2006); approximately 90% of detained youth report a history of at least one abusive
experience (Ford, Hartman, Hawke, & Chapman, 2008); 35% of detained youth report his-
tories with at least one physically abusive experience (Ford, Hawke, & Chapman, 2010);
and epidemiology studies suggest incarcerated youth have victimization rates that are two
times higher than the general population (Coleman, 2005; Coleman & Stewart, 2010; Ford
et al., 2012). In addition, prospective research suggests that victimized youth are at an ele-
vated risk for delinquency (C. Smith & Thornberry, 1995; Widom, 1989), as victimization
can lead to a host of psychological impairments and behavioral disruptions (Cloitre et al.,
2009; Monnat & Chandler, 2015; Watts & McNulty, 2013).
Response To sTRain: exTeRnalizinG BehavioRs and iMpoRTaTion TheoRY
Left inadequately treated, a person with abusive histories and associated externalizing
behavioral problems can experience a regeneration of those problems in various settings
(Agnew & DeLisi, 2012). Moreover, carceral settings have been shown to exacerbate exter-
nalizing behavioral problems (Harder, Knorth, & Kalverboer, 2013; Innes, 1997; Shulman
& Cauffman, 2011). The relative effects of individual characteristics and facility responses
that contribute to behavioral problems in correctional institutions can be understood through
importation and deprivation models, respectively. Importation theory postulates that inter-
nal characteristics are linked to behavioral problems in prison (Byrne & Hummer, 2008;
Irwin & Cressey, 1962). Some characteristics identified by research include race, prior
adjudication, prior record, or mental health history (Byrne & Hummer, 2008). Early life
experiences including victimization or abuse also fit into the importation model; violence,
abuse, or adverse childhood experiences can fuel chronic patterns of emotional and behav-
ioral dysregulation (DeLisi et al., 2010; Farrington & Welsh, 2007; gover, 2004).
Abusive experiences have been studied as a determinant of externalizing behavioral
problems (Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Holt, 2009). Abusive experiences may produce
neurological impairments underlying behavioral and emotional dysregulation (Perry,
Pollard, Blakley, Baker, & Vigilante, 1995). Abuse or neglect that occurs during formative
periods of neurological...

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