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ICJA 2018 - Toward a Trauma Responsive Criminal Justice System: Why, How and What Next?

The 5th Annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference took place on Wednesday, 4th July, 2018, in the Conference Centre at Dublin Castle.  The theme for this year’s conference was “Toward a Trauma-Responsive Criminal Justice System: Why, How and What Next?”.

This one day conference was a collaboration of the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS), the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, The Probation Service and the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development (ACJRD). The lead partner for 2018 was the Irish Prison Service.

The report includes the following plenary papers:

Conference Welcome and setting the scene
Michael Donnellan, Director General, Irish Prison Service

Conference Opening
Charles Flanagan TD, Minister for Justice and Equality

Better the Devil you Know? Alternatives to the Adversarial System
Mary Rose Gearty, SC

What Happened to You? Understanding the Impact of Chronic Early Adversity and Neglect in Infancy and Early Childhood
Ciara McCarthy, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Primary Care Psychology Service, Health Service Executive

Vicarious Trauma: The Impact of Working with Survivors of Trauma
Dr Sharon Lambert, School of Applied Psychology, UCC

Homeless Men with Mental Illness in Irish Prisons
Dr Conor O’Neill, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Central Mental Hospital

The report includes the following workshop summaries:

The Potential for Applying the Tusla-led Meitheal Practice Model in a Trauma Responsive Criminal Justice System
Fergal Landy, Regional Implementation Manager for Prevention, Partnership and Family Support, Tusla, Galway, Claire Foley, Assessment Consultation and Therapy Service (ACTS) and Eimear Ryan, Senior Speech and Language Therapist ACTS

Towards Trauma-Responsive Addiction Treatment Service at Tabor Group in Cork
Mick Devine, Clinical Director, Tabor Group, Cork

Poverty, Homelessness, then Prison - and back to Poverty, Homelessness again
Fr Peter McVerry

Prisons: Trauma Informed Interventions - Them and Us?
Claire Moloney, Chartered Counselling Psychologist, IPS Psychology Service, and Aoife Rice, Assistant Psychologist, IPS Psychology Service

From Exclusion, through Muddle, to Rights: The Place of Victims in Sexual Offences Trials
Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

Every Woman Every Story: Trauma, Criminality and Women in Prison
Governor Mary O’Connor and Dr Maggie McGovern, Dóchas Centre

Pathways to Prison - The Experience of the Traveller Community
David Joyce, Solicitor, Mercy Law Resource Centre and Anne Costello, Coordinator Travellers in Prison Initiative

Vulnerable Migrants and the Criminal Justice System
Wendy Lyon, Solicitor, KOD Lyons Solicitors

Trauma in Probation Practice
Margaret Griffin, Regional Manager, Probation Service, Elaine Kavanagh, Probation Officer and Jane Mulcahy, UCC PhD Candidate

Addressing Psychiatric and Psycho-social Morbidity in Irish Prisons
Dr Gautam Gulati, Consultant Psychiatrist, University Hospital Limerick, Adjunct Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Limerick

To view the Conference Report containing the plenary speeches and summaries of the ten workshops, please click here.

Videos which give an insight into Adverse Childhood Experiences were shown at the Conference.  To view these videos, please click on the following links:

Adverse Childhood Experiences:  http://www.aces.me.uk/in-wales/

Opening Doors:  Trauma-Informed Practice for the Workforce:  https://vimeo.com/274703693?ref=em-v-share

Toward a Trauma-Responsive Criminal Justice System:  Why, How and What Next?

It is the responsibility of the Department of Justice and Equality to work toward Ireland being a safe, fair and inclusive place to live and work.  Public safety and preventing future victims are fundamental to this objective.  Far too many people cycle through Ireland’s Criminal Justice System (CJS), wrestling with chronic mental health and personality difficulties, addictions, relationship difficulties, unemployment, poor use of leisure time, homelessness and isolation from the broader community.  It is time to name the, at times unpalatable, but near universal theme likely to be the genesis of many of these biological, psychological and social challenges: Trauma.  Trauma is not an ‘excuse’ for criminal behaviour but an experience common to almost all men, women and children who have contact with the Irish CJS and therefore a valid ‘contributory explanation’ of criminal behaviour.  In order for the Department of Justice and Equality to fulfil on its responsibilities, it is time for the Irish CJS to focus on trauma for a safer, fairer more equal Ireland. 

Men and women involved with the CJS report a history of significant traumatic experience prior to imprisonment (95.5% and 88.6% respectively; Steadman, 2009).  Experiences in the CJS can often contribute to new traumas, from arrest, through to sentencing, incarceration and release; in itself, it can become a cyclical relationship.  It is also the case that some victims of  crime, because of the seriousness of the crime committed against them can experience trauma up to and including PTSD. In addition, the operation of the criminal justice system can also in certain circumstances re-traumatise victims and this is known as secondary victimisation.  Add to this ‘system’, the experiences of trauma and vicarious trauma experienced by members of An Garda Síochána, the Judiciary, Prison and Probation staff who are tasked with the safe custody, sentencing, management, care, support and rehabilitation of traumatised individuals. 

Recognition and understanding of the role that trauma plays in contributing to an individual’s journey toward involvement in the CJS and the role that the CJS can have in perpetuating trauma and flight/flight/freeze trauma reactions is vital.  In highly stressful, potentially volatile or violent situations (as is often a feature of contact between Criminal Justice Agency staff and individuals), a history of repeated exposure to trauma can become a recipe for disaster for both users of the CJS and Criminal Justice Agency staff.  To address these problems, trauma informed justice systems have the ability to facilitate capacity building through appropriate supports for both individuals who are in contact with the CJS and individuals who work within the CJS.

It was the task of the 5th Annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference to develop trauma-responsive principles of care for consideration across all Criminal Justice Agencies.