How is trauma changing outcomes in New Jersey’s vulnerable communities?

Published on
August 3, 2018

Folks in underserved New Jersey face choices that few in America ever even have to think about, let alone decide how to handle, how to manage. Food insecurity. Poverty. Perennially underperforming schools that create an underclass that’s nearly unemployable and incapable of earning a living to support one person or a family. Physical wellbeing and health care become secondary. Mental health care to deal with the stress and trauma of barely getting by every day becomes even less of a priority.

What happens — and what has happened — when those in vulnerable, underserved communities experience this trauma? When that trauma goes unaddressed and untreated? Why does it? If those communities lack adequate care, why? How does that inform decision-making and influence outcomes? How does it alter the trajectory of one’s life? A life that can result in a prison cell and a record more detrimental than a scarlet letter.

In my series of reports for the 2018 National Fellowship, I will investigate the path that led some ex-offenders to incarceration. What happened in their early lives that shaped their decision to pursue crime? What was and what is now their access to care? Will current policy approaches — attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act — worsen access to care? Does New Jersey recognize the need? If so, does that recognition match its appetite to imprison?

Social justice advocacy organizations in New Jersey have shown how bias in law enforcement have led to mistreatment of minority youths and landed more youths of color in the criminal justice system rather than receiving a “good talkin’ to” to get on the right track. They point out that induces trauma, the kind that hardens youth.

There seems to be an abundance of research, evidence and practice to suggest professionals — in health care, law enforcement and schools and beyond — and communities are turning the corner on addressing trauma. They seem to recognize that trauma can be managed and mitigated, so that the trauma doesn’t control decisions and actions.  

I’m eager to get started on my reporting and explore change. 

[Photo by Paul Sableman via Flickr.]