Harlem’s Senator Benjamin And Others Introduce Legislation To Address Trauma In Prisons

February 18, 2021

Today, Senator Brian A. Benjamin and Assemblymember Kimberly Jean-Pierre introduced the Post-traumatic prison disorder Shawanna W76337 act.

It is a groundbreaking and necessary piece of legislation to address the mental health crisis faced by our correctional system.

“Trauma is a pervasive condition in the correctional system,” said Senator Benjamin, “and by ignoring the problem, we are not only kicking the can down the road, but we are also making things worse. This legislation is a first step toward addressing the situation.”

“We know how deeply traumatic the incarceration experience can be for individuals housed in our prison system, and the enormous toll on one’s mental health cannot be understated and does not simply go away upon an incarcerated person’s release into society,” said Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre. “This legislation will be an important step forward in working to address the traumas and negative mental health impacts of our criminal justice system by ensuring these individuals have the wraparound services they need and deserve upon re-entry. I thank Shawanna Vaughn for bravely using her experience as a force for good to help others impacted by these same traumas.”

The legislation requires correctional facilities in New York State to screen incoming persons for trauma, to develop a plan for therapy for inmates and releasees, and to provide the legislature and governor with an overview of the problem in the correctional system.

In order to help identify trauma in the prison population, correctional staff will be trained to develop basic competency in trauma identification and response.

The legislation also requires basic yet essential measures for inmates upon release to improve outcomes, including provisions for proper documentation and enrollment in programs for which released persons are already entitled.

This is an issue that persists in our communities. “As a formerly incarcerated woman, I’m clear of the effects of incarceration and the toll it has on mental health,” said Shawanna Vaughn, founder of Silent Cry, an organization that works to address the issues of trauma in prisons. “But, the trauma is the reason incarceration persists. We have to treat the entire individual in totality to create wholeness in our communities.” (www.silentcryinc.org)

“ We know that the Black community has been overrepresented in the correctional system for generations,” said Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference and a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors. “We also know that incarceration can traumatize the people who are in the system. Shawanna Vaughn has been a tireless fighter to reform the system to reverse the pain and suffering caused by incarceration. I want to thank Senator Benjamin and Assemblywoman Jean-Pierre for introducing this legislation to address this crisis in our prison system. I am proud to help with the fight to prevent prison from doing further harm to people’s lives.”

Photo credit: Brian A. Benjamin.

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