Bad childhood experiences related to contact with the justice system

Key points

  • Early exposure to the criminal justice system can have a negative impact on child development.
  • Children may face long-term effects due to these adverse experiences, such as drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and illness.

The long history of research tells us that childhood abuse, neglect, and other forms of obvious trauma can have long-term effects on physical and mental health. To help assess the risk of such events, researchers created the so-called Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) pyramid.

In a recent study Pediatrics,Researchers discussed ways in which participation in the cancer system can increase ACE scores and lead to poor long-term health outcomes.

What is a bad childhood experience?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) may include family dysfunction and various forms of abuse and neglect that occur before the age of 18. This is a framework to help medical and mental health professionals better understand the impact of negative childhood experiences on personal health.

Due to the disruption of social and neurodevelopment, childhood traumatic experiences can have a negative impact on health in adulthood. They also increase the chance of social, emotional and cognitive impairment.

The ACE pyramid and linking trauma to health problems

These childhood experiences are placed in a classification pyramid: psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; violence against the mother; living with family members who use drugs, suffer from mental illness or have suicidal tendencies, or have been imprisoned.

These categories are numbered from zero to seven, and then compared with later life results. In addition to physical and mental health issues, these factors can also lead to increased risky behaviors, all of which may eventually lead to premature death.

A study published in The Lancet Public Health in 2017Shows that participants who have experienced four or more types of adverse child exposure have significantly increased health risks, including smoking, substance use, depression, and suicide. There is also a link between the increase in bad experiences and chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases.

How to adapt to the criminal justice system

Researchers in the new study found that the health effects of participating in the prison system occur at the individual and community levels. Both mental and physical health are affected by varying degrees of involvement of the judicial system, from chronic and infectious diseases to drug abuse and premature death.

Katie Moffit of LCSW said: “Youth’s interaction with the juvenile justice system has become another trump card for increasing youth scores. I also believe that we are not just raising their scores by one because of separation or position. Points; we have added more points to their scores by placing them in a system that re-exposes them to violence, isolation, negligence, and abuse, with little help in recovery or rehabilitation.”

Moffett added that these efforts can often feel like Band-Aids, aimed at controlling rather than helping, especially when you consider the high recidivism rate.

Imprisonment as trauma

Awareness of PTSD is usually limited to veterans and sexual assault survivors. However, multiple studies have shown that approximately 30% of imprisoned youth meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Given that even young people facing imprisonment are labeled as criminals, imprisonment as a form of trauma may not arouse understanding and sympathy like other traumas. When young people are discriminated against due to imprisonment, the impact can be huge and long-lasting.

Studies have shown that long-term experience of discrimination has a significant impact on the mental health of blacks and other marginalized communities. Statistics show that black Americans are more likely to commit suicide, leading to a higher suicide mortality rate.

These data, combined with ethnic differences in our prison system, indicate that marginalized communities have major mental health problems, and point out that ACE scores are an important area of ​​investigation. Moffitt said, “…During my work with young people who interact with the justice system (whether through juvenile detention, probation, or expulsion from the family and subsequent placement in a juvenile shelter/treatment facility), I recognize many Not all of these young people have a history of trauma.”

vice versa. Many people who claim to be engaged in illegal activities have also been abused in their youth, and those who come into contact with the system have increased their risky behavior in adulthood.

Moffett said: “Others may describe behaviors as angry or confrontational, usually a way of survival and coping, covering up the abuse and neglect they experience in the family and/or community.”

In essence, poor exposure to childhood experiences increases the risk of future exposure to more such experiences, including imprisonment, which in turn further increases these risks.

Katie Moffett, LCSW

Behaviors that others might describe as anger or oppositional behaviors are usually a way of survival and coping, covering up the abuse and neglect they experience in the family and/or community.

— Katie Moffitt, LCSW

Moffitt continued, “Teenagers face a wide range of behavioral and emotional problems, including: anger, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, running away, truancy, drug abuse, abusive and aggressive behavior towards others, sexual reactions, Eating disorders, teenage pregnancy and suicidal ideation.”

Differences with participation in the prison system

At the community level, although the judicial system is ostensibly designed for safety and prevention, we see that the end result is often chaos, poverty, drug abuse and mistrust of public officials. It is important to note that the greater involvement of the police and criminal justice systems in communities of color is due to institutional prejudice and discrimination, as well as the influence of structural and systemic racism.

This means that although the interventions and methods we adopt for young people who engage in dangerous behaviors should undoubtedly be changed, there are bigger factors that affect these young people and their communities every day.

“The longer the ACE remains unresolved, the greater the risk of youth committing crimes, future victimization, and poor health (mental and physical). We can intervene when ACEs appear to ensure that young people get better As a result, and we can prevent individuals from future ACEs by responding with more trauma-informed and fewer cancers,” Moffitt said.

Importance of repair methods

The data shows that there is a real connection between discrimination and traumatic reactions, traumatic reactions and chronic diseases, and discrimination in communities of people of color. In order to fully solve the problem of increasing ACE scores due to the participation of the prison system, it is essential to solve the problem fundamentally.

Moffett said: “Unless we provide teenagers with comprehensive, holistic, trauma-informed restorative care and family and community support, we will not address the root causes of the trauma that led to their behavior. At present, we do not get them truly What is needed. Instead, we push young people into a system that isolates them from their families, protective adults, communities, and other possible support. The system currently mimics and re-exposes young people to what originally led them to participate in the youth system ACE.”

She went on to say that a system that would only lead to more violence would not help recovery and reduce health risks. “We can work in our communities to address inequality in our system so that children don’t experience the ACEs that usually lead to jail first,” she said. “Preventing ACEs now and in the future is where we should focus; this means that interventions and services should include fewer cancers and more treatments for individuals, families and communities.”

What this means to you

Trauma can take many forms, all of which can have a lasting impact on an individual’s health and well-being. Although there is still a lot of work to be done at the institutional and structural levels when it comes to the factors that encourage imprisonment and the negative situations that occur, the data surrounding the link between the system and ACE scores can provide information for the handling of youth in prison . system.

The ACE prevention program can reduce youth’s contact with the prison system and ultimately improve the health of adolescents and young people.