Whatcom County Jail Trauma Research Study
After doing deep research into the issue, I have found that “an arrest creates a traumatic experience for people – and it is traumatic enough to cause mental illness symptoms – even if people do walk away and say, “I’m o.k.” Most people do that because it is so shocking to realize what happens inside the arrest and jail process that people can’t even talk about it. It is like they have a split reality experience, and they cannot comprehend what just happened. So they avoid talking about it. It is like a psychic shock that is so mind-bending that people want to pretend it didn’t happen. But they can’t.”
I did 79 in-depth interviews with 79 people who have been impacted by an arrest in Whatcom County. Of the 79, fifty-three (53) were arrested and went through the jail, court and justice system process directly. Twenty-six (26) were family, friends or colleagues who were trying to help them through the situation. After listening to all their stories, and mapping them out, looking for common denominators, tracking the biggest issues…here is my summation. I did two different charts each showing different impacts, and each showing how the other side is impacted.
STEP1: WHATCOM COUNTY JAIL TRAUMA CHART – THIS WAS WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE 53 PEOPLE WHO WENT THROUGH THE JAILING PROCESS THEMSELVES.
I talked with the person who got arrested and went through the jailing and justice system and all they way through arrest and the aftershocks on them and their families. I tracked it out and then diagrammed it into this early process, for it is here where I found the most shocking and hidden impacts – that are not typically talked about in the discussion about jail or justice system reform. It is at the beginning of a 911 call, through the incident, the arresting, the booking, then the jailing prior to 1st Appearance in Court where the shock causes seismic damage to the body, the mind, and the spirit of the person – from constant trauma. I have graphed it out in two phases to show the emotional impacts and symptoms that people experience.
- Radicalized Acute Distress Under Duress (RADD) is what happens at the original shock point – at the incident, the pre-arrest period before they are handcuffed, then taken and jailed. They have a real tough time talking about all this, for the trauma is so severe they seem to try to bury it. To talk about it is in itself re-traumatizing to them.
- Repetitive Accelerating Trauma (RAT) impacts accumulated after booking, jailing and before they go into the court for 1st appearance (When they find out what the Prosecutor is charging them with, and when they get assigned a Public Defender in the courtroom, and have to make their first plea. This is sometimes hours, but more normally happens in a 24-72 hour window when they are held in captivity before they get anyone to talk to about their defense.
STEP 2: BLINDSPOTS: UNEXPECTED FINDINGS FROM JAIL TRAUMA RESEARCH
As these intense interviews started building up, I started interviewing the family, friends, employers, police, emergency responders – even hospital staff and public defenders and justice system employees about what they observed, experienced and felt from helping the persons, or their families deal with the aftershocks. The interviews yielded a whole other level of awareness and insights that typically have not been talked about in most writings about reform. And the pre-assumption by those people who work in the system in court, in the administration, or in behavioral health or recovery is that they just assume that everyone who gets arrested is already emotionally messed up, mentally ill, or addicted – or “must have done something wrong, or you wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”
There is a automatic presumption of guilt and fault by the system against the person arrested that leaves no room for the possibility that the person is innocent, that the person may not have been mentally ill in the first place.
It was unexpected to realize that no-one, including me, the researcher that the stress of the arrest distresses the mental health and stability of everyone who goes through the system…and it was likely that the impacts of the loss of freedom, the acute shock of being arrested, were the cause of the mental distress symptoms seen in people even at 1st arraignment and certainly post court. Our rise in mental illness issues can most likely be traced back to a traumatizing situation that happened with a crisis, an arrest and the impacts on the psyche.
I was taken aback to truly realize that most people arrested had no criminal intent that sparked the arrest. It was the circumstances areound a crisis that led to an incident, that sparked an arrest and accusation that the person broke a law, and that starts the sequence of distress that compounds. Many of those arrested did not seem to have had mental illness symptoms pre-incident. This was shocking and it led me to do another level of questioning for both those arrested and for all their support team members. Here is another chart summarizing what I found.
STEP 3: INTEGRATED ANALYSIS AND CHARTING FOR PUBLICATION.
After doing all this research and comparing information gleaned, I went online to find out if there were any diagnoses of mental health symptoms that matched my findings. I found the Complex Post Traumatic Distress symptoms listed in the World Health Organizations list the most comparable. I found symptoms from severe head trauma caused by split brians or broken brains to be similar as well. Nothing else fit the broad range of symptoms described and the depth of impact. The only ones that seemed to fit the plethora of symptoms were those that were exhibited by people who had experienced deep and sudden shock and betrayal by a protector or who been held hostage or captive by a “friendly”. People who were taken prisoner in a friendly land, or were held hostage by a cult, or a person taken captive and held as prey to their protector.
My bottomline conclusion: Just a call to 911 can trigger an arrest and jailing because of the way that the system of technology, protectionism and fear of liability works today. The presumption of innocence is lost and superceded by the likelihood that a law was broken, and inevitably this leads to an arrest – whether or not anyone intended to commit any crime of violate any law. The pre-assumption of guilt is made at the 911 call – and once that call is made, it triggers the system to step in and protect the government and all the people who run the legal system.
What is not shown on this chart, is the high costs that any family incurs from the point of the arrest ($10,000 to $30,000 is fairly standard) or it can escalate rapidly, throwing the family into immediate poverty as well as into RADD-RAT escalating conditions.