What’s at Stake
Trauma is a
for almost all people with criminal legal system involvement

Close to 70 percent of mental health court participants report a history of child physical abuse, and lifetime trauma among people who are incarcerated has been found to be nearly universal (Callahan et al., 2012; Policy Research Associates, 2011). There is consensus that high percentages of people with criminal legal system involvement have experienced trauma throughout their lives. The reverberating effects of traumatic experiences can challenge a person’s capacity for recovery and pose significant barriers to accessing services, often resulting in an increased risk of encountering the criminal legal system. Criminal legal system professionals are often not aware of trauma’s effects and may inadvertently escalate an encounter, leading to worse outcomes such as additional charges or jail time for the person involved.

Our Solution

How Being Trauma Informed Improves Criminal Justice System Responses is a training program for criminal legal system professionals to increase understanding of trauma, create an awareness of the impact of trauma on behavior, and develop trauma-informed responses. Trauma-informed responses can help to avoid retraumatizing individuals and increase safety, decrease recidivism, and promote and support recovery of people with criminal legal system involvement.

Our Model

Our 4-hour training is designed to be informative and engaging. We guide training participants through six modules, in which they learn the following:

  • Why learn about trauma: Setting the stage on why it is important to learn about trauma.
  • What is trauma: Understanding the complexities of the term “trauma,” including how people experience and are affected by traumatic events and exploring the potential impact and the impact of trauma “on the job” among criminal legal system professionals.
  • Trauma’s effects: Learning how trauma—even trauma from decades ago—can present among people in contact with the criminal legal system.
  • Individual differences: Understanding the individualized nature of traumatic experiences and the role of risk and resilience factors in a person’s life. Historical, community, and contextual factors are also explored.
  • Trauma-informed responses: Learning how to use the understanding of trauma and its impact on behavior to develop trauma-informed approaches and response strategies using a trauma-informed lens.
  • Trauma-informed systems: Exploring how criminal legal system policies and procedures may retraumatize people and steps that professionals can take to help change it.


This highly interactive training is tailored to the following participants:

  • Criminal legal system professionals (e.g., corrections, court personnel, police)
  • Behavioral health providers who work with people with criminal legal system involvement

Impact in the Field

“We strongly believe in the positive impact this will have in our agencies and county.”

—Pima County, Arizona, Training Participants (2020)

Follow-Up Assistance

Follow-up technical help is not always needed after your training event. But some jurisdictions find additional assistance with post-training strategic planning. If your community wants more support, the Systems Mapping and Training Center is here. The Center can host follow-up strategic planning meetings, give guidance and resources, or connect you with topic experts. These follow-up opportunities are offered on a fee-for-service basis if the need comes up.


Abram, K. M., & Teplin, L. A. (1991). Co-occurring disorders among mentally ill jail detainees. American Psychologist, 46(10): 1036-1045. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0003-066X.46.10.1036

Binswanger, I. A., Stern, M. F., Deyo, R. A., Heagerty, P. J., Cheadle, A., Elmore, J. G., & Koepsell, T. D. (2007). Release from prison—A high risk of death for former inmates. The New England Journal of Medicine, 356:157-65. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMsa064115

Dauphinot, L. (1996). The efficacy of community correctional supervision for offenders with severe mental illness. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.

Callahan, L., Steadman, H. J., Vesselinov, R., & Robbins, P. C. (2012). Comparing outcomes for women and men in mental health courts. (Unpublished manuscript). Delmar, NY: Policy Research Associates, Inc.

Fader-Towe, H., & Osher, F. (2015). Improving responses to people with mental illnesses at the pretrial stage: Essential elements. Council of State Governments Justice Center. https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Improving_Responses_to_People_with_Mental_Illnesses_at_the_Pretrial_Stage_Essential_Elements.pdf

James, D. J., & Glaze, L. E. (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf

Policy Research Associates, Inc. (2011). Evaluation of the CMHS Targeted Capacity Expansion for Jail Diversion Programs: Final report. Delmar, NY: Author.

Steadman, H. J., Osher, F. C., Robbins, P. C., Case, B., & Samuels, S. (2009). Prevalence of serious mental illness among jail inmates. Psychiatric Services, 60(6), 761–765. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.2009.60.6.761