Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Crime
You may have read about the school-to-prison pipeline which discusses how education and public safety policies push students into the criminal legal system through “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies.
Yet, before some of these students even start school, they have a high chance of being incarcerated. Today, we’re going to talk about the ACE-to-prison pipeline and how helping children heal at an early age can help us to reduce the number of people incarcerated.
Through my work, I’ve learned that about 70 percent of the incarcerated have gone through child abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse during their lives. ACEs and crime go hand-in-hand. Addressing ACEs at their root can help us keep innocent children from paying the price for their parents’ actions.
What are ACEs?
ACEs are adverse childhood experiences. These experiences include both physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and household violence. A child who experiences more ACEs is more likely to suffer from physical ailments like diabetes and heart disease as well as poor academic achievement. They may be disruptive in the classroom and fall victim to those “zero-tolerance” policies that are so damaging to people’s lives.
If a child with ACEs manages to make it through their childhood and adolescent years, they’re not necessarily in the clear. They can still suffer from substance abuse later in life.
Here is a list of the 10 ACEs:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Mental illness
- Mother treated violently
- Incarcerated relative
- Substance abuse
Foster Care, ACEs, and Crime
Foster care serves as its own prison pipeline. By definition, children in the foster care system have suffered at least one ACE. However, it’s more likely for the children in foster homes to have suffered at least four ACEs. As a foster care survivor myself, I’ve seen first-hand the hardship and brokenness that is present.
According to the Juvenile Law Center, there are around half a million (437,500) children in America’s foster care system. Within two years of leaving care, 25 percent of the alumni will become involved with the criminal justice system. Additionally, per the Center for Economic Policy Research, across the U.S., close to 20 percent of the prison population in the U.S. consists of foster children while about 70 percent who exit foster care as legal adults will be arrested at least once by age 26.
How to Move Forward
Preventing ACEs when at all possible should be our first step. We should seek to reduce the toxic stress in people’s lives and help meet their basic needs through social services. Unfortunately, this isn’t always achievable. Sometimes parents get divorced, or someone has a mental illness that is due to genetics.
In this case, we must help children heal at an early age through therapeutic sessions with mental health professionals, meditation, physical exercise, spending time in nature, etc. This will allow them to address their traumas and make better decisions as teens and adults.
Furthermore, if children or families experience relational poverty, then this is something that must also be tackled. Every child deserves to have a positive adult role model in their life that they can connect and have healing experiences with, despite other adults in their life who may have hurt them.
Addressing the problem at the root can help to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals. During a recent visit to a prison, I spoke to several high level inmates between the ages of 17 to 21. Most of their parents have also been in prison and experienced ACEs. They did drugs and were abused. If we cannot help youth heal, then the cycle will only continue…passing trauma down to generations and generations after us.
Looking for a motivational keynote speaker on ACEs or childhood trauma? As a survivor of child abuse and the foster care system, I share my knowledge on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how you can transform your life today regardless of what’s happened in the past.