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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pathways Linking Trauma and Delinquency among Black Young Adults

  • Author(s): du Plessis, Lindsay Danielle
  • Advisor(s): Thomas-Tobin, Courtney S
  • et al.

Delinquent behavior is an important public health issue that contributes to health disparities among Black young adults. While all young adults face risk of delinquency, Black Americans may be particularly at risk. Black youth are disproportionately arrested at high rates and once detained, they are funneled deeper into the system. Therefore, there is a need to identify the risk and protective factors associated with delinquency among this population to inform intervention efforts and decrease the numbers of Blacks in the criminal justice system.

Prior research has identified structural, environmental, and social factors, including exposure to trauma, which lead to delinquent behavior. Although recent studies have recognized the importance of trauma in shaping delinquency and demonstrate that Black Americans experience more trauma than other groups, there has been limited consideration of the role of trauma in shaping delinquent behavior among this population.

The purpose of this dissertation was to identify the multiple types of trauma faced by Black young adults, evaluate the pathways linking trauma to delinquency, and assess gendered patterns in these relationships. Data was used from one wave of the Transitions Study, which is a community-based epidemiological study of stress and well-being during transitional life periods among young adults in South Florida. The effective sample size was 483 Black young adults.

Results indicated that exposure to trauma was slightly higher among men than women, with family trauma and witnessed violence as the most common types experienced. Gender-stratified models also showed that experienced violence and witnessed violence were more common among men, and family trauma and sexual abuse were more common among women. Logistic regression models revealed that experienced violence was associated with the highest odds of being delinquent, whereas family trauma had a smaller association with delinquency. When assessing gendered patterns, witnessed violence was more influential for men, and experienced violence was more influential among women. Taken together, the findings of this study highlight the importance of gender for shaping traumatic experiences and their association with delinquency among Black young adults. Moreover, they underscore the significance of trauma as a correlate of delinquent behavior that should be further explored.

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