youth, rather than just punishment. Thus, sentencing for juveniles should incorporate concepts of
A significant issue that should be expanded beyond the adult court approach is that the
juvenile courts need to address all child trauma, and not just PTSD. As discussed earlier, PTSD
is just one type of trauma listed in the DSM- 5. Other types of trauma exist as well. Additionally,
child trauma moves beyond the narrower criteria of PTSD and incorporates research on brain
development, similar to what the Miller Court relied upon in its decision.165 Further, using the
“Three E” framework, the Miller Court actually instructs judges to consider traumatic events
(such as family violence, physical abuse, and parental substance abuse), rather than just PTSD.
Researchers like Griffin et al. (2012a) quantify the difference between addressing youth who have
experienced traumatic events and youth who are diagnosed with PTSD. In their study of over
14,000 youth in the custody of Illinois child welfare, over ninety-five percent of those youth were
suspected to have experienced a traumatic event (by definition, the youth were in custody because
they had been abused or neglected).166 About thirty percent of these youth were identified as
having experienced some trauma symptoms (re-experiencing, avoidance, hyperarousal, etc.).167
However, only approximately three percent had the right symptom clusters to be eligible for a
diagnosis of PTSD.168 Clearly, there is a significant difference between saying juvenile courts, in
sentencing, should consider the trauma history of ninety-five percent of the children versus just
three percent. Arguably, Miller instructs judges to consider the ninety-five percent who have
experienced adverse childhood experiences, and not just the three percent who might fit the
categorical definition of PTSD. In sum, juvenile court sentencing should consider child trauma.
The next issue to consider is what difference that would make in a juvenile’s sentence.
V. CHILD TRAUMA IN JUVENILE SENTENCING
Given a juvenile court judge’s wishes to consider child trauma in sentencing, there are
several steps a court can take, including: (A) becoming a trauma-informed court; (B)
incorporating trauma concepts into the sentencing factors; and (C) considering trauma in the
actual juvenile sentence.
A. A Trauma-Informed Juvenile Court
A juvenile judge cannot do all that is required to implement a trauma-informed sentence.
The judge needs assistance from clinicians, probation officers and attorneys. That requires a
juvenile court, as a system, to become trauma-informed. SAMHSA recommends that a trauma-
informed approach incorporate three key elements: Realization, Recognition and Response:
A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed realizes the
widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for healing;
recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in staff, clients, and others
involved with the system; and responds by fully integrating knowledge about
trauma into policies, procedures, practices, and settings.169
165 Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2464 (2012).
166 Gene Griffin et al., Addressing the Impact of Trauma Before Diagnosing Mental Illness in Child Welfare, 90 CHILD WELFARE, no.
6, at 69, 84 (2012).
167 Id. at 82.
169 Part Two: A Trauma-Informed Approach, SUBSTANCE ABUSE & MENTAL HEALTH SERVS. ADMIN.,
http://www.samhsa.gov/traumajustice/traumadefinition/approach.aspx (last updated Dec. 10, 2012).