A wide range of experiences can prompt traumatic responses in individuals,
including witnessing community violence, witnessing or being in a severe accident,
unexpected or violent loss of a loved one, experiencing neglect or physical and sexual
abuse, and other unpredictable events where there is concern about an individual’s
safety.60 Each of these traumatic events can have profound effects on a survivor’s
development and functioning due, at least in part, to the changes that stress related to
trauma has on the brain.61 Exposure to trauma while the brain is developing can impact
and harm brain structures involved in regulating emotion and affect the ability to use
logic and reasoning.62 The impact of trauma on the brain is similar to the impact of
poverty, suggesting that individuals who grow up in communities where both are
common face even greater challenges in life.63
C. The Limits of Incarceration
Taken together, the cumulative impact of poverty and trauma create environments
where children are not afforded the rights to survival and development, protection from
violence, and rehabilitation for victims enumerated in the CRC. Addressing the
cumulative disadvantage that limits these rights therefore requires proactive interventions
at the population level. However, rather than proactive measures, the current public
safety paradigm in the United States focuses almost exclusively on arrest, detention, and
prosecution, such that less than five percent of the world’s total population, yet nearly
twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population, is in the United States.64 This
globally unparalleled level of incarceration disproportionately impacts a relatively small
number of urban areas.65
58 Id. (indicating that while many youth victims never offend, youth who have been victimized are far more
likely to offend than those who were not victimized).
59 From Victim to Aggressor, PSYCHIATRIC TIMES (June 1, 2007),
60 Judith Cohen et al., Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents
with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, 49 J. AM. ACAD. CHILD. & ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY 414, 414–16
61 See Cook et al., supra note 54, at 393 (indicating that exposure to stress through abuse or neglect causes
the disintegration of analytical capacities on children’s brains, “leaving them disorganized cognitively,
emotionally, and behaviorally and prone to react with extreme helplessness, confusion, withdrawal, or
62 ERICA J. ADAMS, JUSTICE POLICY INST., HEALING INVISIBLE WOUNDS: WHY INVESTING IN TRAUMA-
INFORMED CARE FOR CHILDREN MAKES SENSE 2 (2010). The brain continues developing up until about age
twenty-five, with critical periods of growth from zero to two. Id.
63 Ashlee Loughan & Robert Perna, Neurocognitive Impacts for Children of Poverty and Neglect, AM.
PSYCHOL. ASS’N. (July 2012),
impacts.aspx (noting that neglect is one form of trauma with adverse impacts on brain development).
64 The Prison Crisis, ACLU, www.aclu.org/safe-communities-fair-sentences/prison-crisis (last visited Oct.
65 Robert J. Sampson & Charles Loeffler, Punishment’s Place: The Local Concentration of Mass
Incarceration, DAEDALUS, Summer 2010, at 20, 23.