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Using Trauma-Informed Practices To Enhance Safety and Security in Women's Correctional Facilities

NCJ Number
Alyssa Benedict
Date Published
May 2014
23 pages
After an overview of trauma and its effects on women offenders, this paper recommends key actions that facility administrators, managers, and staff can take to better align their operational practices with the research on trauma, so that a more trauma-informed facility culture is promoted.
The high prevalence of trauma among women inmates has been documented in research. This stems from their histories of emotional and physical abuse. This results in a neurobiological response that stimulates a host of physiological and hormonal events as defenses against the painful events and their aftermath. Trauma survivors are constantly, and often unconsciously, scanning their environment for a threat or interpreting all events and interactions as potentially unsafe and threatening. Given the prevalence of this condition among women inmates, it is important that women's prisons develop a trauma-informed culture. This means that the staff understands trauma's pervasive effects on the brain and body and that innovative programs are developed to educate women on the effects of trauma and help them cope with its effects. In addition, the operational practices of a prison should be structured to assist women in managing difficult symptoms of trauma, so they can safely participation in institutional programs and services. Inmates who feel safe in their environment are less likely to be triggered into self-protective responses that complicate facility operations. The benefits of developing a trauma-informed prison culture are improved inmate attendance and participation in programs and services, decreases in disciplinary infractions, and decreases in conflict among inmates. Specific features of prison life identified as needing careful management are strip searches by staff for contraband, the transitioning of inmates from one place to another within the prison, and being supervised by male staff during sensitive times (such as showering and dressing). 1 table and 59 references