Embargo Period


Degree Name

MA in Conflict Transformation

First Advisor

John Ungerleider

Second Advisor

John Ungerleider


There are high rates of childhood interpersonal trauma, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), in criminal offender populations. Childhood trauma is associated with adult mental illness, drug addiction, and crime. This paper explores the following questions: 1) How does childhood interpersonal trauma lead to adult conflict and crime? 2) How can restorative reentry programs for former prisoners best address offenders’ trauma-related behavior and thus reduce conflict? Research was conducted through a review of literature, and findings were substantiated through personal experience working with clients of the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center Reentry Program in White River Junction, Vermont.

This paper demonstrates how childhood trauma can alter identity formation and lead to antisocial behaviors that increase the likelihood of adult crime and recidivism. Childhood trauma can change the way the human body responds to stress and the brain processes information, leading to an increase in aggressive, risky behavior. Evidence is provided for the trauma-healing effects of healthy relationships and community connections. Offenders returning to the community after incarceration often lack healthy relationships and are rejected by their communities. Based on these findings, it is argued that restorative reentry programs and their Circles of Support and Accountability (COSAs) for former prisoners can mitigate trauma-induced antisocial behavior by helping offenders build healthy relationships and community connections, and thus transform “criminal” identities.

The findings indicate that trauma-related criminal behavior is unlikely to be deterred by punitive responses, because that behavior is often an attempt to satisfy a basic human need, such as safety or identity.

Keywords: Criminal behavior, trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences, COSAs, Restorative Reentry Program


Image Location