Why Trauma-Informed courts?
Modern courtrooms function more like emergency rooms than traditional courtrooms. The sound of the gavel replaces the siren. Clerks, judges and attorneys are the first responders while the podium becomes the center for the differential diagnosis and treatment.
More than ever before, courts are inheriting and being asked to resolve fundamental societal issues that bring people into contact with the legal system. These issues are both broad and deep and ultimately are embedded in the impact of the lifetime trauma children and adults experience.
Trauma has always shown up in the courtroom. It shows up in the belligerent parent, the withdrawn defendant and the aggressive juvenile. More recently, the true breadth of the impact of trauma in the courts is being measured.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes trauma as the psychological response to violence or adverse events when they are experienced as physically or emotionally harmful/threatening and has lasting adverse effects on functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Several studies have focused on the prevalence of trauma in those entering a courtroom and the obvious need for trauma-informed courts. One study, the Targeted Capacity Expansion (TCE) for Jail Diversion Study, found 96% of women in jail diversion programs reported a lifetime of trauma and 89% of men.
Perhaps more surprising is 74% of women and 86% of men reported current trauma. A study of justice-involved juveniles in Florida found they were more likely to have experienced trauma and multiple forms of trauma than non-justice-involved juveniles.
We must start assuming every person walking through the courtroom door has experienced some trauma. Our obligation as court professionals is to be trauma-informed in our interactions, environment and procedures.
Traua-Informed Courts: Tough but compassionate
The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange offers some practical and easy ideas about how to create trauma-informed courts.
Learn more at jjie.org