Prior to incarceration, both women and men report a history of significant traumatic experience (95.5% and 88.6% respectively). That is before arrest and conviction which can provide additional trauma. Trauma care is a major focus of the work that L.A. CADA does with people in the criminal justice system who have behavioral health issues.
Jails and prisons are designed to house perpetrators, not victims. Inmates arrive shackled and are crammed into overcrowded housing units, lights are on all night, speakers blare without warning, and privacy is severely limited. Security staff, focused on maintaining order, must assume that each inmate is potentially violent. Therefore, the correctional environment is full of unavoidable trauma triggers — pat downs and strip searches, frequent discipline from authority figures, and restricted movement. For people serving time, this is likely to increase trauma-related behaviors and symptoms that corrections systems are not equipped to manage.
Staff working in criminal justice settings – pre/post-release — can play a major role in minimizing triggers, stabilizing offenders, reducing critical incidents, de-escalating situations, and avoiding restraint, seclusion or other measures that may repeat aspects of past abuse. The tool is a trauma-informed system.
Understanding trauma can be complicated. Trauma can stem from an isolated incident (experiencing or witnessing violence, sexual assault, stalking, emotional abuse, child abuse, and many other things) and from repeated incidents over a lifetime. It can be compounded by multi-generational and/or historical trauma. This happens when an already devastating memory is compounded by “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from group trauma experiences”. Things like colonization, war, or genocide. Due to historical trauma, many survivors of violent crime, for example, African Americans, American Indian communities, and immigrants, must confront multiple layers of traumatic experiences as they recover and heal.
The good news is that any system can help by becoming trauma informed. Safety is the overarching goal — safety from harm, re-victimization (however unintentional), and abuse. It’s achieved by implementing a victim-focused approach. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) cites six principles of trauma-informed care:
- Trustworthiness and Transparency
- Peer Support
- Collaboration and Mutuality
- Empowerment, Survivor Voice and Choice
- Attention to Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues
Learn how attention to trauma has helped youth in the criminal justice system.