Drawing on qualitative interview data collected during the author’s ongoing PhD research, this paper argues that the findings of many mainstream criminological studies and the dominant Risk/Needs/Responsivity (RNR) model of offender rehabilitation might be reinterpreted in the light of the evidence from epidemiology studies and neuroscience evidence that exposure to an overdose of trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in infancy arrests normal brain development and leads to catastrophic health, relational and social impacts over the life-course.

The focus of prison-based services, in particular, should be redirected towards trauma-responsive practice in order to assist unrecovered trauma survivors with offending behaviour to make better sense of themselves and their multiplicity of personal struggles. Criminality and the consequent loss of liberty may, for many prisoners, be a minor aspect of their personal adversity stories. Offenders tend to come from communities where ACEs are all around them; in their homes, on their streets, in their schools, doctor’s surgeries and emergency rooms.

Criminal justice agencies that are not trauma-informed and which omit to train specialized staff to ask offenders about childhood trauma are overlooking important information relevant to continued offending behaviour. If prisons and probation become trauma-responsive and help people to understand their childhood adversity and its enduring magnitude, they will be more likely to buy into participation in both personal development and offending behaviour interventions.

Trauma in prisons-Jane Mulcahy