Justice Partners Learning about Trauma in the Courtroom
Ohio judges and their justice system partners teamed up on April 1 to learn about how past trauma can affect victims and offenders who come before the bench.
The training focused on understanding trauma and explored how courts can become “trauma competent.” Courts encounter trauma in a number of ways: A veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder may require additional evaluations and treatment or a person who becomes a drug addict to cope with sexual or domestic violence.
Nearly 200 team members heard mental health expert Dr. Brian Meyer discuss trauma from an evidence-based perspective. He explored the brain’s response to trauma and practical steps courts can take to become trauma-competent.
“If we’re going to look at people from a ‘Have you been traumatized? If so, how does that affect you, how does it affect your brain, how does that translate into your behavior?,’ that’s very different than saying, ‘You’re a person who came in, and you’ve committed X, Y, and Z crimes and now you’re going to pay for it,” Dr. Meyer said.
Dr. Meyer said courts need to have a different way of thinking to become trauma-competent including how they talk to offenders and victims, how they organize their physical space in the courtroom, and how they hold individuals accountable for completing treatment programs.
He also stressed that while trauma doesn’t excuse a person’s criminal behavior, it’s important that offenders are ordered to trauma-specific treatment so they can receive an effective response to that behavior.
Gallipolis Municipal Court Judge Margaret Evans has two specialized dockets in her courtroom. She said having drug and mental health courts allow her to intensively discuss each individual’s problems.
“It’s important for the whole system to operate properly – that we understand what’s motivating people, and I think that’s where identifying trauma comes in and is very important, so that we can address some of the source and try to then cut recidivism rates,” Judge Evans said.
Right now Judge Evans said her court looks at trauma during the intake process with her probation department. After listening to Dr. Meyer, she wants to incorporate other changes.
“We are actually going to look into how we may actually be able to add more of this to our screening mechanism so that we can get people into treatment more quickly,” Judge Evans said. “Ideally if we had the resources and the time we could possibly do some pretrial screening for bond.”
The Ohio Supreme Court hosted the training so more courts across the state can start implementing these practices in their courtrooms and become trauma competent.
The Court will host a specialized dockets annual conference on October 27-28 in Columbus. Registration information will be shared through the specialized dockets email newsletter in late summer. For more information about the conference, or to be added to the newsletter list, please contact email@example.com.