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A Prison Program in Connecticut Seeks to Find out What Happens When Prisoners Are Treated as Victims

The Conversation

By Miriam Gohara

Prisons are full of people who were once victims of violence and abuse.

As many as 75 percent of people who are in prison have experienced violence or childhood neglect, according to data from the Department of Justice.

Prisoners report past abuse at rates up to twice that of the general population. Youth who get caught up in the criminal justice system have experienced chronic trauma at rates triple those of youth in the general population.

A study of people who spent time in prison, conducted by sociologist Bruce Western, found that 42 percent had witnessed a violent death as children.

Advocates of criminal justice reform are beginning to catch up with what social scientists have shown for years: The correlation between being the victim of a crime and committing crime cannot be ignored in serious conversations about sending fewer people to prison.

However, the U.S. justice system focuses almost exclusively on punishing people who commit crimes. What if our justice systems treated victims of violence who harm others as also deserving of healing?

A pilot prison program in Connecticut entering its third year is beginning to answer that question. Connecticut modeled the program on a German prison for young people. I visited that German prison and two others last summer as part of research funded by Yale Law School.

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