Violence & crime victims’ trauma are a public health issue: A new message for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

Apply public health values to a broken criminal justice system

Contact: Jon Crane Phone/Email 203-982-4575

Sunday April 10th will mark the start of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 10-16) and this year’s theme – Serving Victims, Building Trust, Restoring Hope – is intended to highlight the need for victims services that will promote trust, healing, and recovery.

But for too many crime survivors, those services and ideals remain out of reach. Equal Justice USA, a national organization working to transform the justice system to one that heals and restores lives, recently launched a new initiative aimed at addressing the trauma of crime survivors, particularly in communities of color where there has been disparate access to resources.

“Our goal is to move towards a justice system that can actually promote health, rehabilitation, and healing,” said Fatimah Loren Muhammad, Director of EJUSA’s Trauma Initiative. “We are working to develop a justice system that operates according to public health values of prevention, harm reduction, and trauma-informed care.”

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Expanding partnerships between public health and justice transformation

public health and justice EJUSA recently secured its first-ever partnership with a health foundation – signaling a new leap forward in efforts to link public health and criminal justice.

There has been a lot of national discussion about the need to treat violence as a public health issue, or to use a public health approach to justice reform. But what does that mean, exactly? And how to translate that important dialogue into action?

EJUSA, with the generous support of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey (HFNJ), will explore those questions in a new pilot program on trauma in Newark, New Jersey. HFNJ is a foundation dedicated to reducing disparities in healthcare in Newark. This investment in justice system transformation represents an exciting new area of commitment for the foundation.
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Health Approaches to Healing Violence: Hospital-Based Programs

Emergency RoomViolence is a public health issue. But few know that there is a small, but significant expansion of health initiatives across the country that are addressing the needs of survivors of crime, violence, and trauma, in the wake of community violence – and helping to actually decrease crime.

Philadelphia, a pioneer in trauma-informed models of care, has a larger-than-life team of researchers, medical doctors, and other practitioners that have developed programs and initiatives that have transformed the ways in which the health system can work along with the justice system to heal violence.

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EJUSA joins new national dialog on public health and criminal justice

Fatimah Loren Muhammad

There is a growing interest in reimagining the relationship between the public health and the justice systems. Our coverage of the new report, “Stress on the Streets (SOS): Race, Policing, Health, and Increasing Trust, not Trauma,” last month highlighted innovative ways that public health and criminal justice reform organizations are collaborating to do just that.

Another example is a new collaborative organized in part by one of the report’s authors, Human Impact Partners. They worked together with the Vera Institute of Justice to organize the Criminal Justice and Public Health National Convening last November (with support from the Ford Foundation and Open Philanthropy), which I attended.

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Trust Not Trauma – Policing and Public Health

Trust Not TraumaAn important new report looks at the relationship between policing practices and public health. Stress on the Streets (SOS): Race, Policing, Health, and Increasing Trust, not Trauma, released last month by Human Impact Partners, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative analyzed police practices in two cities – Cincinnati and Akron.

“The tension and distrust between people of color and police in the United States is an underestimated public health crisis,” the report opens. “Shocking cases of mistreatment, injury, and death grab headlines and go viral on social media, but the mental, emotional, and behavioral impacts of this fraught relationship affect communities of color and police officers in ways less often discussed.” Continue Reading →

Recommended: New resource for how to support someone harmed by crime & violence

help.hope.healThe Partnership for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform organization in Oregon, just launched a new website, Help.Hope.Heal, for people whose friends or family members have been harmed by crime or violence. The website includes advice and resources to help you learn what to say and do to support your friend and yourself, so that you can be the best caregiver you can be. The site is beautiful and inviting.

Trauma-Informed Schools: A Key Strategy for Public Safety

school_squareBy now, many have heard about the recent incident at Spring Valley High School, where a South Carolina deputy slammed a young African American girl to the ground, dragged her on the floor, and handcuffed her for disobeying school rules. Several videos have gone viral and spurred national dialogue about the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a framework that connects harsh school disciplinary practices (such as zero tolerance policies) and increased presence of school police with the eventual incarceration of young people. Research suggests that the criminalization of youth behavior disproportionately impacts African American children and children with physical/emotional disabilities.

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Honoring victims, calling for a system that heals

Tamika Darden-Thomas with her father

On September 25, in honor of National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, I spent time reaching out to several family members of murder victims. Some survivors shared the traditions they have developed over the years to mark the day, including visiting burial grounds or viewing commemorative videos and photographs. Others told me that the day was just as difficult as any other day of loss and grief.

For Tamika Darden-Thomas, an African American resident of Newark, New Jersey, sharing her story with others has been a source of great healing, and she was eager to also share it with me.

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An interview with the director of EJUSA’s Trauma Advocacy Initiative

Sarah interviewing FatimahLast month, we introduced you to the expansion of our work to build a better justice system, including two new staff. I had the opportunity to sit down with one of them, Fatimah Loren Muhammad, and learn about her first few weeks, what a “trauma-informed” justice system means, and her vision for this first year.

Sarah Craft: I know you’re still getting your feet wet, but what do you see as the goals of the Trauma Advocacy program in the first year?

Fatimah Loren Muhammad: First of all, I want to start by saying how absolutely excited I am to join the EJUSA team. These past few weeks have been wonderful connecting with the staff and board members and the greater EJUSA community, many of whom have sent emails of encouragement as I begin my work here.

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Justice, reimagined

For 25 years, you’ve helped us tackle one of the most serious flaws in the U.S. justice system: the death penalty. We’re not done with that work. But you know what? We’re almost there. Really.

So what’s next when we end the death penalty?

We believe it’s not enough to just dismantle the parts of the justice system that aren’t working. We also have to build up the system we want in its place.

Today, we’re expanding that part of our work with two new programs that I’m thrilled to share with you:
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