The idea of trauma-informed justice systems is an idea that is just beginning to emerge.
One of the most utilized and growing systems in America is our Justice System. It is a place where crimes are prosecuted, legal matters are resolved, treatment is authorized, consequences are given to offenders and justice is administered. It is a very complex, structured and sometimes chaotic world that deals with some of the most significant issues facing individuals, families and communities. It is part of our protection in society.
The idea of trauma-informed justice systems is an idea that is just beginning to emerge. I have had the privilege of meeting with some judges regarding the impact of trauma in the courtroom. What is commonly known is that crime and trauma often go hand-in-hand. Individuals who commit crimes typically have some trauma narrative that has contributed to their offender status. There may have been parental abuse, bullying, sexual abuse, violence or other types of family or community trauma in their past.
Secondly there is the trauma that offenders have imposed upon those around them. Victim advocates deal with the impact of trauma imposed on them by those who committed crimes against them or their families. It can often take years of therapy to help them cope with what has happened to them from perpetrators of crime or violence.
I believe judges, court staff and attorneys should have a basic knowledge of trauma in order to work with those who are trauma-impacted. It can make a huge difference as to what strategies could be most effective to help someone who has struggled with criminal behavior. America locks up more individuals than any country in the world. Perhaps a better understanding of what happened to them could lead to different types of interventions rather than expensive and ineffective incarceration.
Also, we desperately need to help victims of crime recover from their personal and/or emotional injuries. There can be grief, loss, anger, depression, hopelessness and many other symptoms. They truly have been impacted by violence or other crimes and feel that they have little power or recourse to help them recover.
So, whether we are dealing with offenders or victims the prevalence of trauma is most likely to be intense and needs to be acknowledged in how we deal with their trauma narrative. This is not to diminish the responsibility of offenders but rather to realize what is behind their behavior so that we can create a true sense of justice that brings corrective behavior. We know that punitive measures rarely curb criminal behavior. The reality is that dealing with crime often means we are dealing with trauma.
We at Lakeside are working to provide trauma training to our court systems so we can offer some new strategies and perspectives to those who are responsible to administer justice and help those in the justice system who have been impacted by trauma.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO