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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 13, 2020 10:31 AM
From: Representative Thomas P. Murt
To: All House members
Subject: Introducing Trauma-Informed Courts in Pennsylvania
“We don't heal in isolation, but in community.”― S. Kelley Harrell

In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that would provide for "trauma-informed courts" in Pennsylvania. Trauma is described as the psychological response to violence or adverse events when they are experienced as physically or emotionally harmful. Trauma can have a lasting impact on a person's daily activity as well as their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

A “trauma-informed court” is one in which judges recognize that the people appearing before them have personally experienced acts of violence or other traumatic life events and are cognizant of the stress of the courtroom environment impact on trauma survivors. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges defines "trauma-informed courts" as a public health approach, whereby there is a communal understanding of the long-term impact of trauma on child and adult development, including involvement in justice systems.

Pennsylvania has already successfully implemented several instances of such courts such as Drug Courts, Juvenile Drug Courts, DUI Courts, Mental Health Courts, and Veterans Treatment Courts. A “trauma-informed court” would serve those who have experienced trauma in their life – like sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc. – and allow for greater flexibility in sentencing and might combine intensive judicial supervision, mandatory drug testing, treatment and incentives to help offenders with substance abuse problems break the cycle of addiction and crime. “Trauma-informed court” teams might typically be led by a judge, and include a prosecutor, defense counsel, treatment provider, probation officers, law enforcement, and court coordinator, who work together to support and monitor a defendant’s case. They maintain a critical balance of authority, supervision, support and encouragement.

Furthermore, a “trauma-informed court” can require intensive supervision based on frequent drug testing and court appearances and implement tightly structured treatment processes and recovery services. This high level of supervision allows supervisors to react swiftly to impose appropriate sanctions or reinstate criminal proceedings when participants do not comply with the program.

Our criminal justice system acts as the venue through which offenders are tried and where victims can seek justice, find resolution, and obtain closure. Introducing a “trauma-informed court” in Pennsylvania would provide an alternative avenue to our current criminal justice system and would allow individuals who have experienced trauma to not only receive justice and proper treatment, but an opportunity to become productive, active members of our communities.

Please join me in support of legislation that would establish "trauma-informed courts" in Pennsylvania.

Introduced as HB2654