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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.

Part 1 (of 3) Do you want an answer to ACEs?


I am sitting on it. Really.  Not just me, but a corps of some 5000 people around the world.  We have been fostering recovery from ACEs and Trauma for over 40 years – long before the ACEs study developed the term. We have served over half a million people worldwide – but almost no one knows we are here.

Like you, many of us have been angry and frustrated that it has taken decision makers and policy setters over 20 years to learn about ACEs and incorporate trauma informed care into practice and policy. But ACEs is the problem statement.  It is what is wrong. It has taken that long for institutions to learn the scope of the problem. And let’s face it, they’re really just beginning to understand.

Imagine how we feel sitting on a huge part of the solution and not getting people to listen. In the same way so many of us were like puppies pulling on people’s pant legs to get them to listen to the impact of ACEs, we have been scrambling trying to get people to listen to how to heal and help people recover from ACEs and trauma.  It did not matter that we had helped over 500,000 in over 60 countries. People did not want to listen, or if they did, they would not or could not believe our results. We are standing here with the salve for all this psychic pain, and we can’t get in the door to help.

That may be a large part of the problem. Just as Anda and Felliti’s data were so overpowering as to create doubt in the establishment because of its magnitude, our work brings rapid massive healing and recovery in a very short time frame, such that much of the professional establishment dismissed it out of hand as hype. I was recently explaining what we do to a psychiatrist who heads an institute on evidence-based practices.  As I explained it, he interrupted to say, “You understand this flies in the face of everything we have developed here as best practice.” (In fairness, that interested him.)

My own understanding of the work comes from 15 years working with a couple thousand inmates in prisons (where all too many of those high ACE scores end up), 4 years of working with over 500 veterans with PTSD (though all too often I find their PTSD is rooted in childhood sexual and physical abuse and neglect); work in inner-city classrooms where whole classrooms score 5 or higher; work in violence torn Central America ; and working with delegations from over 30 countries brought to the U.S. by the State Department.

My compatriots are doing this work: in Rwanda with Hutu and Tutsis - the perpetrators, and victims of the genocide; in rape camps in the Congo; with children from Colombian guerilla groups; with trafficked girls in Nepal; to refugee camps in Kenya; with children released by Boko Haram, Honduran domestic violence victims; with women in Afghanistan; with Kurds in Iraq; with child soldiers in Liberia; and with so many others.

In the U.S. we are in over 100 prisons. We are in numerous schools. We are in jails, juvenile detention facilities, drug recovery programs, gang intervention work, prison reentry, and more. We are working the frontlines of ACEs and trauma. Our work is not academic. It is not ivory tower. It is not theoretical.

 To avoid an excessively long post, I will do follow on posts in the next few days. One on who we are and what we do. And the last on why it works so well and the research showing its impacts. Today I am just trying to pique your curiosity.

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