Criminal Law and Justice

Must Prison Be Traumatic?

September 7, 2021  • Criminal Justice Reform Initiative

Prisons in the U.S. are, by design and operation, focused on punishment. But does punishment have to be traumatizing? Could prisons and jails be places of healing? While healing-centered and restorative approaches are being looked at in pre- and post-incarceration programs, less focus has been on trauma and harm reduction for those currently incarcerated.

In this episode of Shades of Freedom, our guest Nneka Jones Tapia, Managing Director for Justice Initiatives at Chicago Beyond and a former Warden of the Cook County Jail, joins us to discuss the new Square One Project report, Harm Reduction at the Center of Corrections, which begins: “The American correctional system is not a system of accountability that rehabilitates people as it purports to do. Instead, it is a system of pain and punishment with reverberating impact on the people confined there, the people who work there, and the families and communities of both.”

Guest Biography:

photo of Dr. Nneka Jones TapiaDr. Nneka Jones Tapia is the Managing Director for Justice Initiatives at Chicago Beyond, which backs the fight against inequities in Chicago’s communities and invests in the fight for all young people to achieve their fullest human potential. She is an experienced psychologist who is passionate about mental wellness, criminal justice reform, and supporting young people who have experienced trauma. Since joining Chicago Beyond in 2018, Dr. Tapia collaborated to launch programs focused on positive family engagement for families who are justice-involved, holistic healing supports within Chicago Public Schools and peer-led healing supports for youth. She is the former warden of Cook County jail in Chicago, Illinois – one of the largest single site jails in the country. Under her leadership, Cook County jail implemented several bold strategies to promote wellness and to reduce recidivism, including the Mental Health Transition Center, a program that has helped hundreds of people who have been incarcerated to successfully reenter their families and communities.

About Shades of Freedom

Shades of Freedom is a podcast from the Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative. Our podcast amplifies and uplifts promising efforts aimed at reducing mass incarceration, and examines the ecosystem of related inequalities that surrounds and perpetuates it.

The podcast can be found on all the major platforms, including Apple, Google, and Spotify. You can also listen to individual episodes here.

The Shades of Freedom podcast, hosted by Dr. Douglas E. Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, is named after and inspired by the book Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process, by Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.