ACEs in the Criminal Justice System

Discussion and sharing of resources in working with clients involved in the criminal justice system and how screening for and treating ACEs will lead to successful re-entry of prisoners into the community and reduced recidivism for former offenders.

Recent Blog Posts

Walker announces intention to run for district attorney [Daily News]

By Julie Zeeb, Daily News

Red Bluff >> Carolyn Walker, an attorney and legal program manager for the Red Bluff non-profit Alternatives to Violence, announced Friday from the steps of the former Tehama County Courthouse her intention to run in the June elections for Tehama County District Attorney. 
Walker Alternatives to Violence

I’ve worked to break the cycle of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse to give hope to our children’s generation,” Walker said.  “I’ve helped establish the Tehama County Sexual Assault Response Team so that survivors of sexual violence in Tehama County obtain justice.” 

Click here to read the full article written by Julie Zeeb: Walker announces intention to run for district attorney  

From Prison Back to School (

Alex Diaz’s story would not surprise anyone familiar with the effects of generational urban poverty. Born and raised in Dorchester, a lower-income neighborhood in Boston, Diaz grew up without a father and dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He joined a gang and committed a series of misdemeanors and felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping, which eventually landed him in the South Bay House of Correction, a local prison. He spent eight years behind bars and was released four years ago.

But here’s where Diaz’s life departs from the common script. Now 31, Diaz recently passed his High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and is pursuing a certificate in practical electricity at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. What turned Diaz’s life around is a program, Boston Uncornered, that formally launched this past spring, following a seven-student pilot in January 2016. The program pays gang-involved individuals, most of whom have spent time behind bars, a stipend of $400 a week to attend classes to pass their HiSETs and, where possible, to attend college until they graduate with an associate’s degree.

Students also receive social and emotional support from Boston Uncornered’s parent program, the education nonprofit College Bound Dorchester. Currently, Boston Uncornered is working with 170 students, 36 of whom receive stipends and 30 of whom are enrolled in college. “People coming out of jail need a lot of help,” says Diaz, who has guided friends into the program after enrolling himself. “I got a lot of friends that are in college right now, especially guys I know from the street, who thought they could never make it.”

To read more of Adrienne Day's article, please click here.


Action steps using ACEs and trauma-informed care: a resilience model (

The prison system is an example of the ways undigested trauma from early childhood experiences can join with the conditions of harshness and violence in many of our U.S. prisons and contribute to reinforcing a cycle of reactivity in both Correction Officers and prisoners. The correctional system is rife with challenges to the health and well being of Correction Officers (COs) as well as prisoners. Suicide rates of COs are more than double that of police officers as well as for the national average (Steele 2009) and their average life expectancy is 59 years old (Cheek and Miller 1982; Steele 2009). How much is due to adverse childhood experiences? How much is due to our system of incarceration, which can create a culture of violence in which both the imprisoned and those in charge of them must operate in a perpetual state of hypervigilence and wired-in reactivity? Practices throughout the criminal justice process can benefit from information from neuroscience as well as the skills that are based on this information to create environments and approaches that enrich rather than deplete the ability of both COs and inmates to self-regulate as a core practice. Practical self-regulation skills that are based on neuroscience research belong in police and CO training academies, and with other first responder groups as a tool to build resilience and decrease reactivity during stressful situations.

The ACE Study and Trauma-Informed Care have made a strong and positive contribution to understanding the powerful role and negative health effects of adverse events in childhood. The effects of early negative childhood experiences are found to carry on throughout adulthood, even affecting life expectancy. The two contributions have helped sensitize service providers to the risk factors that shape behaviors and health, have helped policy makers and service providers shift away from a characterological lens of human behavior to one that recognizes the impact of early and traumatic experiences, and have highlighted the importance of early childhood prevention programs and family support.

The unintended consequences, however, have contributed to an over-focus on negative events to the neglect of protective and positive factors. This over-focus, while not characterizing all policies and programs, is still too common, nevertheless. It has shaped research as well as social programs. During service delivery, collection of the adverse details about people’s lives is often necessary but it is not sufficient. A focus on individuals’ strengths and competencies is essential. And, Trauma-Informed Care is also necessary but not sufficient. Policy makers and providers must know what to do with the information, what actions are needed. Action-oriented interventions will facilitate evaluation studies of outcomes. This will advance the field of TIC.

Current neuroscience-based information (“neuroeducation”) has an important role to play in the field of criminal justice including 1) redesigning information gathering processes to decrease re-traumatization, 2) decreasing the use of labels such as “anti-social” that do not take into account the neurobiological effects of trauma on the nervous system, 3) the incorporation of self-regulation skills training for providers and clients, and 4) facilitating outcome evaluations of trauma and resilience oriented skills-based programs. Drawing on neuroeducation about nervous system activation and calming as well as slow and fast systems of information processing can decrease the potential of both data collection and social programs to re-traumatize clients and research subjects and can help reinforce nervous system stabilization.

To read more of Health and Justice's Study Protocol, please click here.

The 10-page report is also attached.

Accountability Without Punishment (

How can we move beyond a paradigm of punishment? Nonviolence practitioner, mediator, and restorative justice workshop leader Joe Brummer joins Nonviolence Radio for a special show where he shares his experience as a victim of multiple hate crimes to helping people transform conflict and violence into opportunities for healing through restorative practices. (Nonviolence News Portion of Show after interview. Transcript here.)

Listen Now.

Stephanie Van Hook

California's 'ban the box' law to help ex-felons find jobs after release (

Starting Jan. 1, people with felony convictions across California will have a chance to do that. That’s when new “ban the box” legislation goes into effect, expanding an older state law that covered only public agencies to every business with five or more employees.

At issue is that one little box on an employment application — the one that requires the applicant to check “yes” if she or he has a criminal history. Knowing they are likely to be screened out, job-seekers who would have to check the box had to decide whether to lie or hope for the best

"We need to remove the barriers to their success," said Marcia Parsons, the chief probation officer for Monterey County. "Once they are convicted of a felony, it's very difficult for them to find employment. Fortunately, there are local employers who will take a chance on them."

Assembly Bill 1008, now part of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, does not prevent an employer from conducting background checks. But it requires that a conditional offer be made first.

To read more of Joe Truskot's article, please click here.

“BECOMING MS. BURTON: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women” by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn

Susan Burton
I met Susan Burton in 2010, but I had learned her name years before. I was doing research about the challenges of re-entry for people incarcerated due to our nation's cruel and biased drug war. At the time, I was in the process of writing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - a book that aimed to expose the ways the War on Drugs had not only decimated impoverished communities of color but had also helped to birth a new system of racial and social control eerily reminiscent of an era we supposedly left behind.

A mutual friend introduced via email and Susan invited me to come to Los Angeles and visit the nonprofit organization she founded,  A New Way of Life. 

Upon my arrival, Susan gave me a tour of the safe homes for formerly incarcerated women that operate as part of The New Way of Life. 

I don't think I understood the full extent the trauma experienced by people who churn through America's prisons until I began taking time to listen to their stories. Research suggests that people rarely change their minds or form a new worldview based on facts or data alone; it is through stories (and the value systems embedded within them) that we come to reinterpret the world and develop empathy and compassion for others. Susan Burton's life story - filled with trauma, struggle, and true heroism - is precisely the kind of story that has the potential to change the way we view the world. It is impossible to read her story and not feel challenged to reconsider our basic assumptions about our criminal injustice system, as well as the conscious and unconscious beliefs we hold about the living, breathing human beings we, as a nation, have condemned and discarded. 

To read more about Susan Burton's book, please click HERE.

Putting Their Prison Pasts Behind Them (

These social entrepreneurs aren't just working to reform the criminal justice system - they're a product of it too.

America's criminal justice system currently housed more than 2 million people - that's more per capita than any other nation on earth. Even worse: Many are repeat offenders who haven't been offered the support or resources to get their lives back on track once released.

A new initiative, backed in part by the singer John Legend, is hoping to reverse those dire statistics. Unlocked Futures is a joint project of the philanthropic fund New Profit, Bank of America and Legend's own nonprofit, FreeAmerica.

Over the course of 16 months, the accelerator, which recently announced its inaugural class, will provide support, funding and mentoring to eight people chosen for their visionary prison-reform efforts. These social entrepreneurs have more in common than just a dedication to helping former inmates flourish on the outside: All of them have been either incarcerated themselves or impacted by the criminal justice systems in some way.

The initiative will support entrepreneurship as a powerful pathway out of the incarceration cycle, which costs America $ 80 billion a year in hard dollars and untold billions more in its negative impact on vulnerable families and communities. By amplifying organizations built by those whose lives have been rocked by the judicial system, Unlocked Futures also hopes to change public perception about the humanity and potential of people who refuse to be defined by their worst mistake.

To read more of Helaina Hovitz' article, please click here.

A Mass Incarceration Mystery []

One of the most damning features of the U.S. criminal justice system is its vast racial inequity. Black people in this country are imprisoned at more than 5 times the rate of whites; one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids, according to the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality.

The crisis has persisted for so long that it has nearly become an accepted norm.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that for the last 15 years, racial disparities in the American prison system have actually been on the decline, according to a Marshall Project analysis of yearly reports by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system.

[For more on this story by  ELI HAGER, go to https://www.themarshallproject...mystery?ref=hp-1-112]

Inmates are part of an army of firefighters battling a 'monster' that just keeps growing (

For well over a week, hundreds of inmates have chain-sawed through relentless thickets of chaparral, cutting lines through the backcountry to thwart the fire's sudden rushes at homes.

On Thursday, they were deep in the Los Padres National Forest, covered in wood grit, soot and sweat, as the Thomas fire continued to grow — becoming the fourth-largest in modern California history.

Playing some of the hardest roles are the inmate hand crews, which make up about 20% of the firefighters here.

Established in 1943, the inmate fire program employs roughly 3,800 prisoners across California, paying them $2 a day in the off-season — when they clear flood control channels and hiking trails — and $1 an hour when they're fighting fires.

"I've always been a fan of the program," said Mark Brown, a deputy fire chief in Marin County and operations commander on the Thomas fire. "They work their butts off."

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To read more of Joseph Serna and Joe Mozingo's article, please click here.

New California mental health roadmap recommends alternate routes away from incarceration (

A new strategy of alternatives to incarcerating Californians with mental health needs has been released as part of the work to help counties develop more effective criminal justice systems.

After an 18-month review, the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission(MHSOAC) this month released “Together We Can: Reducing Criminal Justice Involvement for People with Mental Illness,” a roadmap to address this complex and growing issue in California.

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The recommendations in the MHSOAC report are designed to prevent people with mental health needs from entering the criminal justice system by aligning state and county resources to develop community mental health systems. For those who are arrested, the report recommends courts and jails provide effective treatment and diversionary efforts. The report calls on state agencies to collaborate with counties on strategies to achieve these goals.

“This report represents hope, collaboration and the leveraging of opportunities to help the many Californians who are in the system inappropriately,” said MHSOAC Chair Tina Wooton. “Through strategy and coordination, we have an enormous opportunity to bring public awareness, public support and reduce the stigma of mental illness to make real transformational change."

To read more of Nadine Ono's article, please click here.