Five Best Practices for Trauma-Informed Reentry

By: Katy Maskolunas

Reentry Victims April 1, 2024

Reentering the community after incarceration is a complicated, lengthy process, made more difficult by system failures and lack of support and services. Many survivors have specific needs, but these are rarely considered in reentry programs. Experts suggest making the process more trauma-informed and centering the needs of survivors.

The National Center for Victims of Crime recently convened a group of experts with lived experience with victimization and incarceration to discuss how to make the reentry process more trauma-informed. We want to extend a special thank you to Tanisha Murden, Rylinda Rhodes, and Jason Witmer for their participation, which was essential to the report they co-authored on the subject, and the recommendations it provides.

Key Takeaway 1: Every person is different and has different needs related to their past trauma. 

Trauma can result from exposure to emotionally disturbing or life-threatening incidents that have lasting effects on a person’s functioning and well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 60 percent of adults experienced traumatic events during childhood, while incarcerated individuals report an average of at least five traumatic childhood experiences. The environment to which people are exposed while incarcerated is also inherently traumatizing, with appalling conditions like overcrowding, solitary confinement, and exposure to violence. These factors can contribute to a post-incarceration syndrome like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making it difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals to meet their basic survival needs.

Trauma can also lead to negative outcomes as people reenter society after incarceration, such as technical parole violations resulting in a return to jail or difficulty adjusting to work and social situations. This all highlights the need for trauma-informed reentry services to support individuals in healing and successfully integrating back into society. When people who have been incarcerated have unaddressed trauma, they may experience a range of serious negative outcomes. Meanwhile, trauma-informed reentry services allow people to make mistakes and be imperfect.

Key Takeaway 2: Centering families and children with wraparound support 

Family connections are crucial for successful reentry post-incarceration. They provide emotional, psychological, and practical support while minimizing the negative impact of parental incarceration on children. Support from family members aids in community reintegration, reduces recidivism, and acts as a primary source of financial and emotional assistance. Increased visitation, especially close to an individual’s release, has been shown to delay recidivism.

However, families dealing with incarceration face various challenges like separation, economic strains, and social stigma, which can adversely affect children’s outcomes in the long run. Positive family backing during reentry is essential, though it can strain families emotionally, socially, and financially. Inclusive case management involving family, friends, mentors, and others in the reentry planning process can help in maintaining vital connections. Peer support from individuals with similar experiences can aid in family reunification, offering guidance and emotional support to both the formerly incarcerated individual and their family. This support system encourages openness about fears and concerns while serving as a beacon of hope for successful recovery post-release.

Key Takeaway 3: Lower barriers to services and consider locating them in the same place.

It is challenging for people leaving incarceration to stabilize their lives on the outside. While some communities have resources for reentry assistance, these resources are often disconnected and do not provide efficient support. Some organizations prioritize outcomes over building relationships, which may result in re-traumatization. Reentry centers offer support for various needs including housing, employment, transportation, substance use and mental health treatment, and medical care. The effectiveness of these services is heightened when provided by individuals who have successfully reintegrated into society themselves. These individuals understand the daily challenges of reentry, which is crucial in cases where the community has changed since the individual’s incarceration. Some community members may not be supportive, making it vital for the reentering individuals to have access to peers who understand both the internal and external challenges they face. Supportive peers not only alleviate feelings of isolation but also serve as role models, showcasing the possibility of success beyond past mistakes.

Key Takeaway 4: Infuse knowledge of trauma and how it manifests into every step of reentry.

Training for reentry providers is essential to effectively work with clients affected by trauma. This training should cover the impact of trauma on clients, vicarious trauma on providers, trauma-informed care principles, and specific trauma-informed skills like de-escalation. Ongoing coaching or supervision can further support providers in mastering new trauma-informed skills.

Additionally, service providers should recognize the importance of positive reinforcement in building trust and encouraging success for individuals reentering society. People who are incarcerated often experience trauma, but they also demonstrate resilience. Reentry providers can support them by using case planning and service referrals based on factors that promote healing and resilience. These strategies can include social support, stable employment or school connections, coping skills, and spirituality. Referrals to trauma-specific treatments are crucial for clients with conditions like PTSD or post-incarceration syndrome.

Key Takeaway 5: Implement healing practices into all reentry plans. 

The purpose of restorative reentry processes is to aid people in a successful transition home by repairing harm to the extent possible. This aids people returning from incarceration to rebuild support, ultimately reducing recidivism and trauma. Restorative justice can use a trauma-informed approach by recognizing the impact of trauma on both the victim and the person who perpetrated the crime and addressing those effects in the process of restoring harm and repairing relationships. By focusing on the traumatic impact, preventive strategies can be formulated. A trauma-informed restorative justice process involves understanding the prevalence of trauma, recognizing signs and symptoms, responding with empathy and support, and taking steps to avoid re-traumatization.

Highlighting Promising Programs

The report links readers to six trauma-informed reentry programs showing promise across America. While we recognize that implementing these best practices may be a lengthy process, it is well worth the effort. The promising programs we highlight show that integrating trauma-informed approaches will create more sustainable and successful reentry programs, nationwide.

Pathways to Collective Healing: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve

By: Aviva Kurash

Policing Reentry Victims August 19, 2021

In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety, the challenges of modern policing call for police agencies to build and maintain trust and legitimacy with the communities they serve and to work with community members as essential partners to identify problems and co-produce tangible solutions.

As strategic partners to the Safety and Justice Challenge, the IACP recognizes that promoting community-wide healing in the wake of trauma cannot be detached from the efforts to reduce jail populations and promote alternatives to arrest that uphold community safety. Trust, transparency, accountability, and safety are intertwined.

Policing happens in a dynamic environment. Policies, procedures, supervision, oversight, and accountability systems can help minimize the risk of high-profile events occurring or scandals arising. However, police agencies also need to be prepared to respond in the aftermath of these incidents to promote healing, recovery, and accountability. Police agencies that have trained officers to provide a trauma-informed response and promote comprehensive officer wellness are better able to constructively respond to the trauma of a high-profile incident.

This raises the question: how do we move forward? In 2016, the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice sought to explore what a path forward that embraces collective healing might look like, in the process developing a national demonstration initiative: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve: Supporting Collective Healing in the Wake of Harm (“Collective Healing”). The IACP was motivated to lead this initiative because we recognized that a strong foundation of understanding and collaboration must be in place between police and the communities they serve, prior to high-profile incidents, to ensure the deployment of effective responses in the wake of such incidents—when barriers, tensions, and stakes are often intensified.

Over the intensive four-year Collective Healing initiative, the IACP provided oversight, management, and national training and technical assistance to five law enforcement agency demonstration sites. Through partnerships with Equal Justice USA, Resilience Works, the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice Initiative, PRO Wellness Services, and a range of other experts with experience in building trauma-informed systems through multi-stakeholder collaborations, the Collective Healing initiative supported law enforcement’s leadership role in adopting a trauma-informed culture and practice.

Themes Across Collective Healing Sites

The initiative’s intersectional approach focused on three interrelated components that are essential to fostering collective healing: 1) improving community-police relations and community wellness, 2) enhancing the access to and quality of victim services, and 3) improving officer and agency wellness and resilience. Specifically, this initiative elevated strategies that address institutional disparities, enhance victim services (with particular attention to reducing barriers to accessing these services in communities that experience a disproportionate burden of victimization), and promote comprehensive officer wellness and resiliency. Our resulting report from this project sheds light on both these preventative and reparative strategies.

Work with demonstration sites included developing, implementing, and assessing the practical tools necessary for building essential relationships and joint strategies to reduce tensions, maximize communication, promote trauma-informed interventions and problem-solving, and facilitate healing between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The report outlining what we learned is designed to help law enforcement agencies create a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response, co-created with the communities that they serve. The report emphasizes meeting the needs of the most vulnerable after traumatic events, including communities that are most impacted by the criminal legal system and community violence, the responding officers, their families, and their agencies. These efforts are significant but represent only the early stages of what should be a long-term commitment to addressing complex and deeply rooted challenges.

The intensive work of the Collective Healing initiative over four years focused on creating a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response that meets the needs of those most vulnerable amid violence and traumatic events. In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety priorities and strategies, we should bear in mind that working toward collective healing is a continuous process, involving both accountability and transparency, and which includes:

  • Trauma-informed policing
  • Leadership, culture, and operational capacity-building
  • Collaboration and community engagement
  • Victim services
  • Vicarious trauma and officer wellness

We look forward to sharing the lessons learned from this demonstration initiative as we continue to work with and learn from the sites in the Safety and Justice Challenge, and ultimately promote local justice systems that are both safe and just.

You can read the full report here.

Milwaukee County, WI

Change in Jail Population 18%

Action Areas Courts Data Analysis Diversion Mental Health Reentry

Last Updated


In 2015, Milwaukee County had 33,500 jail bookings per year. Most county jail bookings were tied to misdemeanors arrests. People with mental health issues and substance use disorders also cycled through the justice system.

Both community members and system personnel were exposed to trauma in the justice system. This was particularly true of people of color, who were and continue to be disproportionately involved in the justice system. In 2015, Black and Hispanic people made up less than half (41%) of the population of Milwaukee County and yet comprised almost 70% of the local jail population.


Milwaukee County advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.



A new, countywide Crisis Assessment Response Team helped people across the county get help while in a mental health crisis, rather than being jailed. A new mental health diversion program placed a behavioral health liaison in the jail to conduct assessments and connect people to community resources. Peer support specialists, people with lived experience with the justice and behavioral health systems, were trained on helping people manage their mental health conditions.



An analyst began dedicated work monitoring jail population data and system bottlenecks. A new jail population review team worked to identify trends at the system level and cases that could be eligible for faster resolution and alternatives to incarceration. A court reminder program was also established.



The county expanded the capacity for diversions and deferred prosecution agreements; re-examined practices around unpaid fines and fees; expanded mental health resources; connected people to community-based behavioral health services; created mental health diversion processes; and increased availability of peer support. The expansion included developing a deferred prosecution program for domestic violence cases.



Milwaukee County expanded the services that helped people return to the community. The Home to Stay Resource Fairs helped connect people with supportive resources. For returning citizens with medical needs, they could find the help they needed at the Midwest’s first Transitions Clinic.



New staff focused on reentry and community engagement. The Community Justice Council (CJC) created a process to release community subgrants. The county hosted open dialogues with community members and helped build connections between the community and criminal justice systems to work together to advance change.


As a result of the strategies above, Milwaukee County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Milwaukee County (2016-2024)

17.7% from baseline

More Results

Milwaukee County has far exceeded its original goal, which was to reduce the overall jail population by 19%, thanks to a partnership among system and community stakeholders working hand-in-hand to build a more fair, efficient, and effective justice system.

As a result of the county’s efforts to center racial equity, county departments are now required to use an equity budget tool across multiple domains, including workforce inclusivity and diversity, people-focused design, employee perspective, and improved performance/equity practice.

The county’s emphasis on trauma-informed practices resulted in a better understanding of trauma among system stakeholders. Over 500 county employees were trained in how trauma impacts people throughout the justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Milwaukee County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

Racial disparities continue to persist in the local justice system. Going forward, the Race, Equity, and Procedural Justice workgroup outlined a six-point Racial Equity strategy. Under this strategy, the CJC will hire a racial equity coordinator, engage in analyses to address disparities at system decision points, develop a criminal justice strategic plan with system and community partners, re-launch a criminal justice learning series, and invite community members and people with lived experience to join criminal justice workgroups.

Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in the local jail. However, the foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies supported by the Safety and Justice Challenge, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic effectively.

Lead Agency

Milwaukee Community Justice Council (CJC)

Contact Information

Mandy Potapenko
CJC Director

Erin Perkins
SJC Project Manager


Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Milwaukee County Executive, Milwaukee County House of Correction, Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office

Follow @MKECJC

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Safety and Justice Challenge Expands to Add Behavioral Health-Focused Cohort

By: Ashley Krider

Community Engagement Diversion Reentry July 14, 2021

More than half of our national jail population is living with behavioral health challenges, many of which may have led directly, or indirectly, to their contact with the criminal justice system. This is one of the major reasons Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) provides technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), and why we’re excited to facilitate a behavioral-health focused expansion of the Network: the IMPACT Network.

It is vitally important that people can access the behavioral health treatment and services they need to avoid cycling in and out of the jail system—particularly on non-violent misdemeanor charges.

The SJC supports local leaders who are working collaboratively to rethink local justice systems from the ground up, including its interaction with behavioral health services and systems. Participating cities and counties are using data to identify key drivers of incarceration and racial inequities and working with diverse groups of community members, individuals who work in the justice system, and people with lived experience, to develop impactful reforms.

Since 2016, PRI has witnessed the efforts of local SJC sites to address the diversion, care, and, as required, adjudication of persons more effectively with behavioral health conditions. Locally driven SJC strategies focused on people with behavioral health needs to date extend through various aspects of the criminal justice system and include:

  • implementing pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion in coordination with law enforcement;
  • improving case processing efficiency;
  • enhancing in-jail services and reentry planning; and
  • providing probation alternatives to violation.

The IMPACT Network expansion will engage both current SJC sites and communities not receiving SJC funding to maximize what SJC sites have learned about how to reduce the over-incarceration of persons with behavioral health conditions, as well as to expand the membership of the SJC and spread best and promising practices to other jurisdictions across the U.S.

Some of the specific behavioral health strategies over the course of the SJC have included law enforcement diversion initiatives such as pre-booking Police-Assisted Diversion in Philadelphia (PA), crisis stabilization centers such as the Care Campus in Pennington County (SD), enhanced pretrial supervision with behavioral health screening in Pima County (AZ), and outreach to the familiar face population in Lake County (IL).

Accordingly, the IMPACT Network will be dedicated to accelerating best and promising practices in behavioral health reform and diversion, with an emphasis on local jails, and with a commitment to pursue community-driven race-conscious solutions to reduce harm to populations overrepresented in, or disparately impacted by, the criminal justice system—ؘBlack, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.

The sites will emphasize community interventions that achieve both public health and public safety goals to minimize the involvement of people with behavioral health needs throughout the criminal justice system.

The expansion will integrate six communities/organizations new to the Safety and Justice Challenge: Eau Claire County (WI), West Texas Centers/Howard County (TX), San Juan County (NM), Middlesex County (MA), Orange County (CA), and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The six new sites will join five current SJC communities that have demonstrated progress in reducing the over-incarceration of individuals with behavioral health needs in local criminal justice systems- Allegheny County (PA), East Baton Rouge (LA), Charleston County (SC), Milwaukee County (WI), and Pennington County (SD).

Building and enhancing cross-system collaboration will also be a main focus of the IMPACT Network, including facilitating warm handoffs from law enforcement and first responders to community-based treatment. The network will focus on data collection and evaluation with an eye toward sustainability and helping successful initiatives scale up.

Our team at PRI is excited to work with IMPACT Network sites to continue the SJC’s vital work around community-based responses to the involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system.

State of Delaware

Action Areas Community Engagement Mental Health Reentry

Last Updated

Background & Approach

The State of Delaware aimed to better support people with mental illness preparing to leave Delaware Department of Correction (DDOC) facilities. Three events were held to reach stakeholders including the Delaware Department of Correction, Delaware State Agencies, community providers, and community members. These events helped community members and providers understand the behavioral health intake and assessment process and clinical care provided in prison. The events also helped equip community providers to work with justice-involved people who have behavioral health conditions, and enhanced collaboration between community services providers, contracted DOC reentry staff, and Probation and Parole officers.

The State of Delaware continues to engage with the Safety and Justice Challenge Network to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

*Delaware has a unified correctional system, with no distinction between prisons and jails, and no county or city jails.

Lead Agency

Delaware Criminal Justice Council

Contact Information


Delaware Department of Correction, Delaware Department of Human Services (DHSS, DSAMH), Partnership in Reentry Coalition of Delaware

Follow @DECorrection

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