Trauma-informed sentencing

I gave this presentation last week, at the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, on 10 December 2021. Using a trauma-informed practice framework, this presentation explains how judges of South Australian superior courts acknowledge defendant trauma in sentencing. Trauma-informed sentencing requires that judges realise the presence of trauma, recognise its relevance, respond in a way that is informed by trauma and act to avoid re-traumatisation. Sentencing remarks, while not holistic summaries of judges’ reasoning are intended to enable the parties and the community to understand the sentencing logic. By analysing a sample of 448 sentencing remarks from 2019, the presence of trauma-informed practice was explored, in terms of judicial decision-making, the sentencing process and the sanction imposed. Analysis indicated that judges realised trauma was present in the lives of approximately half of all defendants but did not always overtly recognise a link between trauma and criminal behaviour and even when they did recognise a link, this did not guarantee a trauma-informed sentencing response. In cases where judges intended to impose a trauma-informed sanction, their practice was not always evidence-informed. Policy and practice recommendations that have arisen from this research are discussed.

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