Theses Doctoral

Understanding the Arrest Experiences of Women with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders: An Application of General Strain Theory

Kenney, Jennifer

Through the lens of general strain theory (Agnew, 1992), this dissertation examined the associations between arrests and the strains experienced by women with co-occurring substance use and posttraumatic stress disorders. Much of the research that has been conducted to better understand the experiences of female offenders shows that women in the criminal justice system are disproportionately affected by emotional and economic struggles such as substance use, trauma, depression, lower levels of education, lower employment achievement, and limited social support when compared to women not involved in the criminal justice system (Bloom, Owen, Covington, 2002; Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004; Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2013; Freeman, 2000; Hayword, Kravitz, Goldman, & James & Glaze, 2006; Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009; & Warren, Hurt, Loper, Bale, Friend, & Chauhan, 2002).
This study tested for associations between women's arrest and their strain experiences of drug use, alcohol use, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, education, employment, and social support using data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) Clinical Trials Network (CTN), Protocol #15 titled "Women's treatment for trauma and substance use disorders: A randomized clinical trial." Based on current research and general strain theory, I hypothesized that increased strain would be associated with a higher likelihood of arrest.
In this study, I found that increased arrest was associated with increased levels of education and employment achievement. Increased education and employment achievement were also associated with increased severity of arrest type when crimes were categorized by no arrest, substance-related arrest, non-violent arrest, and violent arrest. Finally, I found that increases in alcohol and posttraumatic stress strain over time were associated with a higher likelihood of subsequent arrest.
The results of the first two analyses were contrary to my hypotheses. One conclusion that can be drawn is that neither education nor employment strain are related to the increased likelihood of arrest or type of arrest. Alternatively, these results may show that the education and employment achievement scales were not adequate measures of strain because neither of the scores incorporated measures for subjective feelings of education or employment strain. It is also possible that the levels of education and employment achievement were a source of strain because they represented a failure of sorts for women who had hoped to attain higher levels of education and employment, especially after committing to a treatment program aimed at supporting them as they attempted to change their lives and begin their recovery from substance abuse.
Results of the third analysis were consistent with my hypotheses. These results provide two important areas of focus for social work clinicians, policy makers, and researchers in their attempts to reduce women's criminal justice involvement. If severity of alcohol and posttraumatic stress strain were addressed, and subsequently reduced in treatment programs, these results suggest that this would help reduce women's likelihood of arrest. All of these results call for further testing of what constitutes women's strains and the relationships between these women-specific strains and arrest.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Wu, Elwin
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014