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

One on One with the Police (

Can open conversations with cops and inner-city youth bring down crime rates?

The organization, Pennsylvania Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), trains Philadelphia cops to empathize with inner-city youth. Its seminars aren’t a certain fix to rebuilding trust between police and the communities they serve, but data collected from DMC and other case studies around the country, suggest they are making a difference.

These open conversations are happening across the country. In New Jersey’s suburbs, a teen asked a detective, “Do you guys think we’re good kids?” Cops shared tips about dealing with online harassment and dating violence in Seattle. Orlando participants role-played a traffic stop before reviewing citizens’ rights during the encounter.

These types of meet-ups, which are formally known as “facilitated dialogue,” also appear to be associated with a drop in crime. After forums in a Boston public housing complex, violent crime in that neighborhood decreased substantially, dropping 31 percent between 2009 and 2010. Drug offenses also plunged 57 percent over a three-year period.

Meet-ups are designed to breakdown negative perceptions of both cops and kids. Stereotypes can get in the way of keeping communities safe, says Rhonda McKitten, who helped develop and expand DMC’s program across Philadelphia and into Connecticut and Florida. Police “don’t have the relationships that are going to help them get information,” McKitten says. “And young people … are not going to be able to go to them when they need help.”

To read more of Chris Peak's article, please click here.

SF Board of Supervisors introduces legislation to eliminate criminal justice fees (

The City of San Francisco is looking to eliminate criminal justice fees ranging from probation fees to electronic monitoring fees and booking fees.

The fees, Breed said, create barriers for people attempting to turn their lives around, and the city only collects between 9 and 15 percent of the fees.

The proposal, which Breed called a "collaboration," also has the support of the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and San Francisco District Attorney.

"From a fiscal standpoint, a social justice standpoint and a public safety standpoint, this policy really makes a lot of sense," said San Francisco District Attorney's Office Spokesperson Maxwell Szabo.

To read more of Melanie Woodrow's article, please click here.

California's mentally ill inmate population keeps growing. And state money isn't enough to meet needs, lawmaker says (

Gov. Jerry Brown has earmarked $117 million in his new state budget to expand the number of treatment beds and mental health programs for more than 800 mentally ill inmates found incompetent to stand trial.

State officials said they have struggled to keep up with the needs of a population that has jumped in size by 33% over the last three years, as judges are increasingly referring defendants to treatment. But one state lawmaker says additional funds are not enough.

Legislators, he said, need to update the laws used by judges to evaluate the mental health of people charged with crimes. And he has proposed his own legislation to keep mentally ill offenders out of the criminal justice system.

"It seems to me that the courts, the behavioral health people, law enforcement, social work - everybody should get together and try to solve that problem," Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) said at a recent budget committee hearing. "Because it's like a bottomless pit if we don't reform."

To read more of Jazmine Ulloa's article, please click here.

These 5 Charts Show Why Mass Incarceration Harms Everyone’s Health (

There’s little doubt among researchers that mass incarceration is wreaking havoc on our society, in particular on people of color, LGBTQ, and the poor. What’s often overlooked in this discussion is the damage that prisons and jails do to our health—from those who are incarcerated to their family members waiting at home to those who work in detention settings.

As researchers and advocates, we have studied mass incarceration issues and started discussions on the ethics of this practice. To us, the evidence is clear: Mass incarceration is a public health scourge in the U.S.

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Family and employees

It’s not just the incarcerated individual who suffers.

Over half of people behind bars are parents. Most incarcerated mothers were primary caregivers to minor childrenbefore their incarceration.

An estimated 2.7 million U.S. children have an incarcerated parent. Having a parent incarcerated is considered to be an “adverse childhood experience.” This is linked to multiple negative health outcomes throughout life, including poor mental health, substance abuse, disease, disability, and even early death.

Children with an incarcerated household member are also likelier to experience poor mental and physical health in adulthood.

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To read more of Emily Nagisa Keehn and J. Wesley Boyd's article, please click here.

Kids with Families in Prison/Jail ( & Note

Cissy's Note: One of the things that worries me about technology is that parents might not be watching so much Sesame Street anymore. As a parent with a whole lot of ACEs, I find the gentle and warm tones of adults on Sesame Street so soothing, On especially hard days this gentle warmth can make an actual difference. When my daughter was young, we'd cuddle on the couch and watch together. The content is always so basic and clear and because it's geared towards and for kids, I never felt patronized or talked down to. I got to laugh, rest, get nurtured and learn a thing or two. I still love that show and the way it talks right to viewers and makes us feel like part of the conversation and story.

Anyhow, as a culture, we offer some compassion, support and sometimes financial assistance to families who have loved ones far away while serving in the military. That's wonderful and more is needed. But for kids who have a family member in jail, there's also pain, loss and absence and often for years and years there's next to no support. In fact, kids and families often feel shame and judgement on top of emotional and financial pain an strain.

Most don't know a lot about how race and class impact sentencing. This all means it's hard for kids who, as one kid said in this video, have a family member "away." This is nice clip that can support and make kids with family members in jail feel less alone and maybe help get a conversation going.  It was made near the holidays because that's an especially hard time for kids but it's good content year round. Really, does anyone ever not feel better after watching some Sesame Street?

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.