top of page
Build a Just and Equitable Legal System for All

While it is well-established that experiencing trauma is more normative than not given the high percentage of people who self-report having lived experience of trauma and adversity, people who are involved with the legal system disproportionately nearly universally—report significant trauma histories leading up to becoming system-involved. 


Further, interactions with the legal system are often themselves experienced as traumatic or re-traumatizing by people who become involved. Interactions with law enforcement, navigating court appearances and related obligations, experiencing unfair and unequal treatment, being subject to punitive ideologies, interfacing with carceral institutions, and encountering barriers to community re-entry all can cause harm and further perpetuate trauma and injustice. 


Those who are directly involved are not the only people who are exposed to harm and trauma by interfacing with the legal system. For instance, the people who care about those who become involved in the legal system, as well as the communities to which such people belong, are subject to harmful personal experiences as well as the enforcement of policies, practices, and dynamics that often significantly impair their own well-being. 

In particular, children and younger people whose caregivers become involved with the legal system are made significantly more vulnerable to becoming system-involved themselves, as well as to experiencing challenges with their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health in ways that have the potential to powerfully shape their life trajectory.


It is also important to acknowledge the impacts of the work on those who interface with these systems and how occupational hazards such as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, moral distress, and burnout can not only adversely impact their well-being but also can manifest in people unintentionally reinforcing re-traumatizing dynamics toward others.


These and other factors indicate that the legal system currently operates in a manner that undermines its purpose to ensure safety for all. Integrating trauma-informed principles, policies, protocols, and practices in the legal system has the potential to reduce rates of incarceration, bolster the public’s sense of safety, build trust in the legal system as well as related actors and institutions, break intergenerational cycles of inequity and oppression, improve holistic health outcomes, and increase access to fairness and justice for all.


This dimension of the vision calls for us to:

  • Support and fund the establishment of trauma-informed and trauma-responsive policies, protocols, and physical environments in agencies, organizations, and institutions within the legal system, building in minimum standards and accountability practices

  • Set for standards requiring consideration of trauma-informed principles in the design of the physical spaces those who are involved with the legal system engage with, such as courts and carceral institutions

  • Require all legal system entities (e.g., courts, carceral facilities, law enforcement agencies, etc.) to allocate a portion of their annual budget towards the implementation and maintenance of trauma-informed services, programming, and mentoring for their staff as well as for people who are involved with the legal system

  • Minimize practices that contribute to institutional trauma, re-traumatization, violence, brutality, and human rights violations within the legal system, while institutionalizing humane, compassionate, and evidence-informed 

  • approaches to supporting recovery

  • Eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion in carceral settings—ideally universally, or beginning with enacting special protections first among those who are particularly vulnerable, such as pregnant people, younger people, people living with developmental/intellectual disabilities, and survivors of trafficking

  • Ensure people who become legal system-involved retain access to natural light, fresh air, exercise, opportunities for social interaction, enrichment activities, holistic health supports, and families

  • Implement alternatives to physical force, such as verbal de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention training, and other trauma-informed techniques to prevent or reduce the need for force whenever safe and feasible

  • Require education and training on trauma as well as trauma-informed practices among all law enforcement, court personnel, attorneys, judges, carceral settings, and others who work within the legal system

  • Some possible steps in lieu of universal education/training:

  • Require legal system-related settings to have at least one person trained in trauma-informed and trauma-responsive approaches in order to operate, be licensed/certified, and/or receive public funding 

  • Require those who provide services to those who identify as survivors or victims of crimes to receive trauma-informed sensitivity, interviewing, and investigation training

  • Provide alternatives to incarceration that reduce harm for individuals and communities, such as:

  • Implement restorative justice processes and practices that are rooted in repairing harm based on what all parties involved express they need to heal and feel safe

  • Some examples include circles that allow for a dialogue between survivors and those who perpetrated harm, community service, and family conferencing

  • Expand pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion programs

  • Develop problem-solving courts grounded in therapeutic jurisprudence 

  • Financially support the creation and expansion of trauma-informed mentoring and peer support programs within court systems, carceral institutions, and community-based organizations serving individuals involved with the legal system

  • Build community capacity to support greater safety, transparency, care, and connection to reduce violence, such as

  • Engage formal and informal community leaders to spearhead initiatives, events, and practices that bring together people in the community to discuss how to support one another and keep each other—and the community-as-a-whole—safe in ways that fit for them

  • Create paid roles enlisting community members with lived experience of both perpetrating and surviving violence to leverage their wisdom and build additional skills to interrupt violence 

  • Disseminate accessible information to the community to help shine a light on the nature and impacts of trauma, bring awareness to how this may influence the ways humans treat one another, and collaborative solutions to shift harmful practices that have been normalized toward embodying a culture of collective care

  • Enhance cross-sector collaboration and coordination 

  • Create referral pathways to help identify those who would benefit from trauma-informed prevention and early intervention services to thwart legal system-involvement 

  • Create strong partnerships between courts, law enforcement entities, and community-based providers of programming and services to help children and families of those who are incarcerated address and cope with related stress and trauma

  • Include a variety of people and groups who are invested in and/or impacted by change at all levels of the legal system, along with community members with lived experience interfacing with the legal system, in any and all working groups, task forces, and other entities convened to make recommendations for changes to existing standards and practices

  • Eliminate bias, discrimination, and disproportionality in the legal system

  • Establish transparent, standardized, and enforced procedures and policies that hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct such as profiling and excessive use of force

  • Establish ethical rules and standards, as well as entities to ensure accountability, to ensure technology used by actors within the legal system, from surveillance tools to data-driven algorithms, are utilized ethically, fairly, and in a trauma-informed manner

  • Provide services and supports to help people living with disabilities—who are disproportionately system-involved—navigate the legal system and have their rights protected

  • Integrate learnings on cultural humility and intersectionality into training and education for the full legal system workforce 

  • Eliminate legal system-related fees and fines levied upon younger people in juvenile legal settings, as well as those demonstrated to be racially discriminatory

  • Require judges to consider additional factors in mitigation when determining the appropriate sentence for someone who has plead to an offense, including factors such as a history of trauma/ACEs, and a person’s positive involvement in the community

  • Support workforce wellness and wholeness

  • Require training for all regarding the effective recognition of vicarious/secondary traumatic stress as well as post-traumatic stress commonly experienced among those who work within the legal system

  • Invest in training and programming to equip the workforce with the knowledge, tools, and access to resources that support healthy, effective stress management and that promote holistic well-being

  • Establish clear, accessible policies and procedures for reporting and addressing workplace- and job-related trauma and stress without fear of retaliation

  • Fund access to support groups, mentoring programs, and other opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and support among members of the workforce

  • Develop and implement trauma-informed critical incident protocols and debriefing processes for members of the legal system workforce who have been exposed to traumatic events either directly or indirectly

  • Transform infrastructure and conditions that cause, uphold, or reinforce oppression or trauma demonstrated to impact community safety and contribute to involvement in the legal system

  • Build community-based safe spaces and resources for individuals and families experiencing trauma or violence

  • Promote successful re-entry among people involved with the legal system through ensuring equitable access to services and programming 

  • Examples: mental health counseling; vocational/educational supports; financial education and resources; housing assistance

  • Provide funding and technical support to community-led organizations working to address the root causes of trauma and violence

  • Examples include programs that address: poverty; lack of access to education and healthcare; racial and economic disparities; historical injustices

  • Develop and implement awareness campaigns and educational programs that teach individuals and communities about trauma-informed practices and how to work together to create safe and supportive environments

bottom of page