Trauma‑informed services improve rehabilitation

PTSD awareness day

Editor’s Note: CDCR is highlighting National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day on June 27, including a look at how trauma-informed services can help people in prisons.

Trauma-informed treatment expert Stephanie Covington in blue jacket.
Stephanie Covington

Many people incarcerated in prisons are also trauma survivors. The impacts of trauma can influence an incarcerated person’s ability to heal and rehabilitate.  

CDCR has recognized some ways we communicate and discipline may not be as effective with trauma victims, particularly women and those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We are committed to providing a safe and productive prison environment. CDCR has implemented a number of gender-responsive strategies and trauma-informed services to improve outcomes for women and men while incarcerated and upon release.

These strategies include training for staff and incarcerated people as well as creating rehabilitation and education programs tailored directly to addressing why people commit crimes.  

A discussion with a trauma-informed strategies expert

To aid its efforts, CDCR hired Dr. Stephanie Covington, Co-Director of the Center for Gender & Justice, and a consultant and program provider for more than 20 years. Here are her thoughts on trauma and corrections.

When people hear the term PTSD, they may think of its impacts on military personnel. How does it relate to criminal justice/incarcerated people?

PTSD is one possible response to trauma. It was originally coined to describe (diagnose) what happened to people who had served in the Vietnam War. First appearing in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1980 and in the context of war, it was subsequently expanded to include civilian experiences. Justice-involved people have the highest rates of trauma in their lives. This is particularly true for women in the criminal justice system.

Why is dealing with trauma important to rehabilitation?

Trauma impacts thinking, feeling, and behavior. It has a huge impact on how people in the criminal justice system react and handle stressors. The criminal justice system has unique triggers or activators for trauma survivors. Tactics such as restraints, isolation, pat and cavity searches, etc. can have negative triggers. In addition, there is a link between substance use disorders, which is common to this population, and trauma.

Historically substance use disorder treatment in CDCR institutions did not involve trauma work. When CDCR developed their Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment program they selected Helping Men Recover and Helping Women Recover as core programs. These are trauma informed and offer some specific trauma work. Trauma is the missing piece in terms of impacting why people commit repeated crimes.

CDCR responding to need

What is CDCR doing/offering regarding trauma-informed training and programs?

Over 5,000 men and over 4,000 women have participated in research on gender-responsive programs, Healing Trauma and Exploring Trauma.

Because men and women have different risks and responses to trauma it is important that they receive programming designed specifically for them.

The evidence shows the effectiveness of these programs in decreasing depression, anxiety, PTSD, anger, and aggression; while also increasing emotional regulation, empathy, and social connection.

Programming is expanding for the gender-diverse population. Another important program in the women’s facilities is Beyond Violence. This evidence-based program focuses on two levels: the violence women have experienced as well as the violence they may have carried out.

By Terri Hardy, Public Information Officer II

Read more rehabilitation stories.

Follow us on YouTubeFacebook and Twitter.