Why Sustaining Futures
“It’s important that we understand and acknowledge the impact of trauma in all our spaces and really begin to reconceptualize what it means to do this work. We can’t fix something that we don’t acknowledge.”
Dr. Kirk “Jae” James
Education Breaks the Cycle of Recidivism
Incarceration as a punishment for crime is a dehumanizing, isolating experience that does little to prevent future transgressions. When individuals are released, they may return to criminal activities because they lack the education and social skills necessary to function in society. But when educational opportunities are made available during their incarceration, students have the ability to change their future and break cycles of recidivism and poverty.
Although all types of correctional education programs show reduced rates of recidivism, access to college-level correctional education programs are especially important opportunities for students. Recognizing the critical need of a college degree in order to enter today’s job market and despite numerous obstacles and challenges to their programs, California community colleges are determined to provide comprehensive and accessible postsecondary education programs for their students.
Trauma Impacts Students, Faculty, and Staff
Trauma occurs when an adverse experience activates one’s fight, flight, or freeze response and overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. It is a natural human response to adversity, but results in profound negative effects for the individual. Most, if not all, students who are incarcerated have histories of trauma. Prison environments can exacerbate and even cause more traumatic reactions for students. Ultimately, trauma affects their ability to focus, regulate their emotions, memory, among other skills.
Working with individuals who have histories of trauma and in a constrained prison environment increases faculty and staff’s risk of burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. When these problems arise, the sustainability of prison education programs is threatened.
Building Resilience: Changing the Response to Adversity
Individuals may respond to stressful environments in different ways. For some, it may result in compassion fatigue, burnout, and/or vicarious trauma. Yet others may respond more calmly and bounce back from difficult experiences.
Despite the challenges of working within a prison environment, faculty, staff, and students often demonstrate an impressive capacity to cope with adversity. This reflects the other dimension associated with success: Resilience.
While some individuals may have developed their own personal resilience, others may develop resilience because of supports that are built into their environment. Programs that embed both trauma-informed and resilience-building values are able to build an individual capacity and protect the person from serious emotional harm.