It has long been understood by advocates that juveniles who commit serious crimes have suffered traumatic events in their lives. Many of the juveniles who have committed violent acts are products of physically and sexually abusive homes, homes where they have witnessed the abuse of a parent, or they have been the victim of crime or criminal acts or been raised in violent communities. We know this because we have met and spoken with the inmates themselves. I can tell you from personal experience that I have not met a single individual inmate that came from a perfectly normal household with a loving family who has been convicted of a violent crime. That doesn't mean that they do not exist. There are other individuals who are guilty of violent crime that suffer from mental illness. In almost every case in which a child kills a parent or parents, there is a history of abuse or severe mental illness. The cases of Jacob Ind and Nathan Yabanez are perfect examples. While child protection authorities were notified numerous times concerning these two young men, nothing was ever done to end the abuse in their homes. Our own systems and authorities failed to protect these children and keep them from harm. I know of young men who have reacted with protective violence when their mother was being beaten by her husband. I know of young people who have grown up in foster homes because of family tragedies and those foster homes were abusive. The violence that these children endured, the stories that I have heard and the deep pain and sadness in these young peoples eyes have left me in grief and terror. They have suffered things, seen things that no child should ever experience.
The prison system and those responsible for the care and rehabilitation of female inmates understand that the majority of those women have suffered some sort of trauma or abuse. It is finally being researched and recorded that men have suffered these same traumatic events and abuses as well. To me and those who come from the religious community or from the behavioral science community it is an obvious assumption. We don't believe or assume that a person is just "bad" or violent by nature. We know that human beings and especially children are impacted by their environments, their circumstance and events in their lives. Much research and attention has been given to the high rate of post traumatic stress disorder in returning military veterans and the violent incidences that occur after they return home. Veterans are given information concerning warning signs so that they will seek help for PTSD but often that help is given too late.
With all this information you would think we would be compelled to reevaluate the way we treat and rehabilitate violent and addicted inmates. The prison system has never even thought to look at the why only carry out punishment and condemnation. The Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey recently released a report concerning the rates of traumatic events in male inmates. "Eighty-five percent reported being a victim of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion. More than three quarters of the men had been physically or sexually abused.State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said at first he almost didn’t believe the figures. "When I saw the numbers and I saw the prevalence of trauma overall, I was just blown away," he said. "I couldn’t believe that so many, such a high percentage of our offenders — so I called her up and said, are you sure about these numbers?"
If the goal of prison is to correct the behavior of the inmate so that he/she returns to be a contributing member of our communities then we have to stop thinking of these individuals as "criminals" and start looking at them as human beings. These inmates are people....wounded, misguided, abused people who see themselves as failures. It is up to us to instruct them and guide them to a better life. It is our job to take care of the widow, the poor and the fatherless, to teach and train young men and women in the way they should go and to help our brothers/sisters to find the path to a good life. We can't lock them in a little room, away from family, community, education and treatment and expect to have things turn out differently when they come home. Prison is supposed to be a time out. Not a lifestyle.
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