Fighting for hope: The criminalization of trauma in justice - Involved girls' lives and stories of resilience from a juvenile prison




Davis, Allison

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Girls make up a growing proportion of justice-involved adolescents, yet there is a gap of scholarly qualitative data on girls experiencing incarceration. This study addresses that gap by holistically examining justice-involved girls’ pathways to and experiences of incarceration. The researcher selected portraiture as the primary investigative method for this research in order to best capture and convey authentic representations of justice-involved girls’ lives. The researcher interviewed nine girls who were experiencing incarceration in a post-adjudication juvenile justice facility in Texas regarding their experiences of and lives leading up to incarceration. Additionally, two instruments were administered, the UCLA Adolescent PTSD Reaction Index and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, in order to capture the gendered role of trauma in justice-involved girls’ lives and specific characteristics of resilience. Findings showed a patterned pathway to incarceration, involving early relational trauma, development of posttraumatic stress symptoms, adaptation of behaviors to help girls survival cope with the symptoms, and eventual punishment of these behaviors by the juvenile justice system. Findings also demonstrated a cyclical relationship between system punishment-oriented responses, increasing posttraumatic stress symptoms, escalated survival coping, and the repeated adjudication for survival coping that resulted in multiple entries into correctional placements marked by increasing lengths and higher security. Throughout their lives, justice-involved girls have had survival coping to untreated PTSD labeled as bad behavior and punished, a theory the author calls the “criminalization of trauma.” This theory is illustrated with a model as well as with portraits woven from emergent themes and direct experiences of participants’ lives. Special attention is paid to the resilience strategies girls use to navigate challenges-in themselves, others, and their environment highlighting effective ways to assist justice-involved girls’ efforts to escape a system that both failed to protect them from harm and then punished them for surviving.



Social sciences, Psychology, Incarceration, Justice-involved girls, Juvenile prison, Portraiture, Posttraumatic stress disorder, Trauma