How being trauma-informed improves criminal justice responses

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Wednesday - February 01, 2017.

"Although prevalence estimates vary, there is consensus that high percentages of justice-involved women and men have experienced serious trauma throughout their lifetime. The reverberating effects of traumatic experiences can challenge a person's capacity for recovery and pose significant barriers to accessing services, often resulting in an increased risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system." – SAMHSA GAINS Center – "How Being Trauma-Informed Improves Criminal Justice System Responses"

In our previous series of articles about the connections between trauma, addiction, mental health and crime, we presented . . . 

what the research has shown about how "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (ACEs) or childhood trauma impact a child's brain development.

(See those articles here:

http://lancastercountyreentry.org/item/traumatic-childhood-experiences-and-adult-addictions-mental-illness-crime

http://lancastercountyreentry.org/item/traumatic-childhood-experiences-linked-to-adult-addictions-mental-illness-and-crime-part-2

What is trauma? SAMHSA defines trauma this way: "Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being."

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or childhood trauma include experiencing or witnessing, before the age of 18, any of the following:
• recurrent physical abuse
• recurrent emotional abuse
• contact sexual abuse
• an alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household
• an incarcerated household member
• a household member who is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal
• mother treated violently
• loss of a parent due to separation, divorce, death, incarceration
• emotional or physical neglect

These experiences create toxic stress and impact children's development in many ways. When children experience any of these things, there can be long-lasting effects into adulthood, including:
• depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders
• alcoholism and drug addiction
• eating disorders
• heart disease
• cancer

There's a growing recognition within the criminal justice community that understanding trauma and how it affects people is essential to changing how we respond. According to SAMHSA's GAINS Center, understanding trauma can:
• help [criminal justice professionals] to respond in ways that de-escalate behavior
• help reduce the numbers of people with behavioral health challenges who are arrested or who re-offend and return to jail
• not re-traumatizing helps promote recovery

In upcoming articles, we'll be providing more information about trauma and how understanding it can improve criminal justice system responses.

About the Author

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). She was a featured TEDx speaker at the first-ever TEDx event in Lancaster.  http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Breaking-out-of-prison-thinking 

She is an NIC-certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, a certified Global Career Development Facilitator, and a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Healing Communities model. She is also a trained restorative justice mediator.

Prior to Melanie's involvement with the RMO, she spent several years researching and writing the book Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (Brethren Press, 2009), which tells the true story of a woman who volunteered in Pennsylvania's state prisons for over 30 years, creating inmate education and reentry programs based on principles of restorative justice. After Grace Goes to Prison was published, Melanie traveled throughout the United States, doing speaking engagements and meeting with other reentry and restorative justice professionals to discuss criminal justice issues and exchange information and ideas.