How people are treated in prisons is often a hushed topic. The belief that prisons only hold perpetrators, not victims, explains why considering prisoners’ trauma is not widely accepted.

When criminal justice professionals don’t understand the need for addressing trauma amongst offenders, it can increase the chances of re-traumatizing individuals, give rise to criminal behavior even after serving their sentences, and harm individuals with serious mental illnesses.

In recent years, the public has started to acknowledge the need for trauma resolution among those involved in criminal justice. Oftentimes, concealed traumas and unresolved mental health troubles lead to illegal activity; this is referred to as a “harmed and harming” outlook of female offenders.

Addressing Trauma in Criminal Justice Populations

Criminal Justice

Trauma cannot be adequately addressed through a singular treatment method. Prisons, due to their inflexible nature, necessitate alternative and multifaceted treatments when it comes to trauma; this is especially true since the harsh environment may worsen preexisting trauma in inmates. As such, attempting to bring about any fundamental cultural change within prisons becomes highly improbable because of the different types of offenders.

Here are ten ways in which criminal justice professionals can provide a safe space for trauma-affected offenders in the criminal justice system:

1. Knowledge of Trauma-Informed Care

To ensure the successful integration of trauma-informed care principles into the criminal justice system, it is vital that criminal justice professionals are educated to recognize those who have endured traumatic experiences and know how to help them effectively. Once these professionals have absorbed this information, they can provide understanding and support to offenders with difficult pasts.

Obtaining a psychology degree is ideal for those in purpose-driven professions such as criminal justice. And now, with the convenience of online education, getting a bachelors in psychology online is an excellent way to gain insight into trauma-informed care and to understand people better.

2. Mental Health Services

Access to mental health services, such as therapy and counseling, is important for individuals who have gone through trauma. Among offenders, a history of trauma is very common.

Providing them a space to work through their experiences and accept and heal from the trauma is necessary to make sure that they don’t become repeat offenders. Therapy can also help them develop coping mechanisms to deal with trauma symptoms.

3. Medication-Assisted Treatment

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 85% of the criminal justice population struggles with substance abuse or is imprisoned for crimes involving drug use. With these staggering rates, prisons must incorporate medication-assisted treatment for those struggling with trauma-related drug use.

Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine can help individuals manage drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

4. Case Management

Case-wise, assistance for perpetrators can be very beneficial for dealing with those who have experienced trauma. This way, these individuals can connect with the needed resources and services that can help avoid re-traumatizing them. Or keep them going into the same place after completing their sentence where they experience trauma again. This includes assistance with employment, healthcare, and housing.

5. Support Groups

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Support groups within the prison can provide individuals who have experienced trauma get a safe and supportive environment. Here they can share their experiences and receive the emotional support that helps them overcome their trauma.

This is especially important for criminal justice populations as they might not have access to traditional support networks. They can access these support groups while serving their sentence and even after they have gotten out to prevent repeat offenses.

6. Diversion Programs

Trauma-informed care belongs to the courtroom too. A diversion program can be an alternative to a criminal justice system, like a prison, for those who have experienced trauma, struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues.

The diversion programs might include court-ordered treatment, counseling, rehabilitation, or other forms of support.

7. Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a process that helps the offenders and the victims to overcome trauma, bringing them together to address the harm caused by the crime, find a resolution, and find peace.

It helps offenders understand the aftermath of their offense and how addressing their trauma is important to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Choosing restorative justice rather than the traditional punishment-based prison culture helps shatter the perception of distrust in criminal justice professionals. It also helps offenders overcome common feelings of hostility and violence against those who work in the criminal justice system.

8. Cultural Competency

Different cultural groups experience trauma that only their community or culture can understand. The criminal justice system must be culturally competent for offenders. Here culture does mean not only race or ethnicity but also other variables like literacy level or socio-economic status.

In many cases, trauma might cause the individual to become distrustful. In prison, distrust is inevitable since offenders know that the system is “punishing” them. When the criminal justice population is given culturally responsive services, they open up more easily, making the journey to health from their trauma quick and effective.

9. Trauma-Specific Programming

In the criminal justice system, some offenders have stories of trauma never heard of before. Commonly, trauma is related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or acute trauma.

Trauma-specific programming helps individuals to address their specific kind of trauma. The system also ensures they don’t experience anything that re-traumatizes them. For example, strip searches might be triggering for sexual assault victims.

10. Re-Entry Services

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Lastly, providing re-entry services for perpetrators who have completed their sentence ensures they don’t return to their old life and transition into a community as respectable individuals. This can include support for employment, housing, and mental health support.

In many cases, offenders face employment issues because companies try to access confidential criminal records. It is up to the National Institute of Justice to identify such cases and penalize these companies so individuals who have had their records wiped can have a chance at leading a normal life.

Once they re-enter the community with a fresh start, there are fewer chances that the individuals become repeat offenders.


Addressing trauma in criminal justice populations is crucial for promoting healing and preventing repeat offenses. Many strategies help address trauma in criminal justice populations. Among these trauma-informed care principles, support groups and re-entry services are important ways to address trauma.

By recognizing the impact of trauma on offenders and providing appropriate resources and support, the criminal justice system can play a vital role in promoting healing and ensuring that perpetrators are seen as humans who can lash out because of their painful histories.

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