One of the biggest reasons for searching out alternatives to incarceration, especially in Tennessee, is that our prisons and jails are full to bursting with inmates, including new and repeat offenders. When looking into why this is, and why jail time doesn’t seem to be dissuading or rehabbing offenders as jail is meant to do for a lot of people, studies show that violent crime in Tennessee outranks almost all other states, and yet has the most people incarcerated.
In trying to determine why people turn to violent crime, researchers have noted that those who grew up in a violent household, and sustained trauma from witnessing or being a victim of that violence, were far more likely to turn to violent crime later in life. Perhaps, in order to bring down Tennessee’s incarceration rate, help needs to start at home, and for those who have already committed a criminal offense, different forms of rehabilitation may assist in preventing repeat offenses, and subsequent returns to prison.
The effects of violence in the household
According to a report released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, 69,385 offenses were flagged as domestic–related in 2020, and 45,854 of those offenses were reported as simple assaults. That’s in comparison to such offenses as murder, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, and so on which made up fewer of the offenses. The majority of victims, at 49,626, were women, and 6,755 victims were children under the age of 18.
On a broader scope, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61% of the general population has had at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). An ACE is a “potentially traumatic event that occurs to people younger than 17,” as the Urban Wire states.
It must be pointed out that childhood traumas are not just something everyone can simply muscle through. It has a chemical and physical effect on the brain of a child, leading “to an overstimulated amygdala, underdeveloped hippocampus, and subsequently, an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which influences decision-making.” Because of these physical changes in the brain, these children grow up to have impaired impulse control, and makes it nearly impossible for them to self-regulate.
We can see how the physical and chemical effects in the brain due to constant stress from living in a violent household can ultimately lead to becoming a violent adult, more likely to commit violent crimes. Not only that, but ACEs can also result in the child being more likely to develop mental illnesses.
Urban Wire gives us chilling and startling statistics, reporting that “in one study, people who had committed criminal offenses reported nearly four times as many adverse events in childhood than an average adult male. Moreover, with each additional ACE youth report, the risk of violence perpetration increases by 35 to 144 percent.”
With incarceration proving to be a poor method of rehabilitation, including a poor deterrence against committing a crime, it’s obvious that we as a society need to turn our focus to other forms of support, education, and support.
In a report on the National Incident-Based Reporting System released by the FBI, Tennessee is third in the United States regarding violent crime. Local Nashville news channel WKRN spoke to victim advocate, Verna Wyatt, who said:
We are also in the top 10 states where men kill women and at one point, we were number four, so if you have people that are learning violence in their home where they are supposed to be safe and that’s where they learn and that’s how problems are solved is with violence. Why are we surprised when they take it out to the street with people they don’t know?
Tennessee has an alarming incarceration rate, beating out every democracy on Earth at 838 per 100,000 people. Tennessee also has a high recidivism rate (the rate at which offenders are released from prison only to re-offend and return to prison) at 47.1 percent.
While some offenders are bound to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives, and therefore will not have the opportunity to recidivate, those who are going to prison for just a few years need to have a better option for rehabilitation if they are to avoid repeat offenses, and the state is to avoid overflowing prisons.
Preventing children from growing up to commit violent crimes
The first way to prevent people from becoming violent criminals is to start at the beginning. Before a child can grow up to commit a violent crime, we should be aware of ACEs as soon as possible, and offer parents and caregivers the resources they need in order to help their child through their stressful experience. Teachers also need to be educated in how to deal with trauma and traumatized children, as well as providing mental health support and resources for the children themselves at the school.
With children who are perhaps already in the juvenile detention system, better rehabilitation tools and resources there can turn their lives around before they ever become an adult. Restorative justice programs for youth have already seen progress in places where they have been implemented. Where arrest and incarceration fail, “restorative justice programs are more responsive to youth needs and more effective in preventing future crimes because they help young people take responsibility for their behavior and repair the harm that was caused to victim(s) and the broader community.”
Alternative rehabilitation options besides incarceration
As for those adults who have already been arrested, there are some options outside of incarceration (for certain crimes) that may prove to be more effective at keeping ex-offenders from returning to prison. One of these options is called judicial diversion.
Judicial diversion, also called probation before judgment and deferred adjudication, is when people who have committed certain crimes are allowed to avoid incarceration by pleading guilty or “nolo contendere” (no contest) to the crime of which they are accused. Tennessee code §40-35-313 states that then “the court may defer further proceedings against a qualified defendant and place the defendant on probation upon such reasonable conditions as it may require without entering a judgment of guilty and with the consent of the qualified defendant.” While not all crimes are able to be considered for judicial diversion, a great deal of first offenders may very well be able to avoid jail, while still having to follow the rules of their probation.
Another option available to certain people who commit crimes are recovery courts. In Tennessee there are several types of recovery courts, and 82 recovery courts in total, that allow certain offenders to receive rehabilitation resources. As per the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services of Tennessee, recovery courts are “judicially-supervised court dockets that reduce correctional costs, protect community safety, and improve public welfare. In recovery courts, non-violent individuals with substance use disorders participate in treatment while under close legal and clinical supervision.”
The types of recovery courts include:
- Adult recovery courts. These courts are aimed at achieving “a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among drug-involved adult offenders in the community.” They also aim to increase the likelihood of rehabilitation through various means such as community service, periodic drug tests, intense continuous treatment, and other rehabilitation services.
- No one wants to see our veterans in jail, so these types of recovery courts are extremely important to our underserved military community. These courts seek to help veterans who are struggling with alcohol, drugs, or mental illnesses. Rehabilitation and recovery is sought out through using specialized veteran organizations and mentors, engaging in treatment and counseling. These programs also ensure that all those who participate receive their proper veterans benefits.
- Mental health. As there are an overwhelming number of incarcerated people who suffer from mental illnesses, mental health recovery courts seek to treat certain authorized individuals with “judicially-supervised, community-based treatment.”
- DUI. Similar to the drug court model, DUI courts seek to rehabilitate those in the post-conviction stage of the legal system, with the aim of making the streets safer. Along with rehabilitation, technological tools such as ignition interlock devices and transdermal alcohol detection devices can be used.
- Juvenile and Family courts. Juvenile courts work in a similar way to the drug court model, but for youth.“The youth referred to this docket are identified as having problems with alcohol and/or other drugs.” Family courts are often suggested when the parents of a family are having problems that affect the children or spouse. Parental substance abuse tends to be the root of the problem in these cases. Those involved include child protective services and treatment personnel, and their goal is “providing safe, nurturing and permanent homes for children while simultaneously providing parents the necessary support and services to become drug and alcohol abstinent.”
Not only should parents and teachers be educated in trauma, but the court system as well. Attorneys who are well-versed in the mental illnesses and the effects that childhood trauma can have on their clients can better advocate for them, increasing the chances that their client can receive the correct rehabilitation instead of simply being put into incarceration where their trauma and illness can be exacerbated.
Incarceration serves an important purpose. It protects citizens from being harmed or killed from others who refuse to follow the law of the land, or know the difference between right and wrong, and choose to do what’s wrong anyways. It is obvious, however, that prison should not be the initial punishment for every crime, and that the public is better served with the integration of rehabilitation programs such as recovery courts.
Childhood trauma needs to be stopped, which means violence at home needs to stop. When we can begin raising our children in safe, supportive environments, we may see a drop in the amount of violent crime seen on our streets, and the number of prisoners incarcerated may begin to decline. People aren’t objects that can be put away and forgotten, but are individuals who may just need help and support, both early on in life and even when they have grown.
If you believe that you may benefit from a rehabilitation service, you should contact an experienced Franklin criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates. Not everyone who commits a crime is irredeemable. We understand that the circumstances of our childhood, and even the misfortunes of our adult life can sway our actions. It is through learning better ways to cope, behave, and live that we can change our lives and our society. To schedule a consultation, call us or use our contact page. We can help you. We also have offices in Columbia and Brentwood.