On May 30, Rep. Klint Kesto (R-District 39), House of Representatives Law and Justice Committee chair, took testimony from crime survivors calling for investments in systems that help crime survivors heal and create safe communities.
Aswad Thomas provided powerful testimony about his experience as a crime survivor. He grew up playing basketball in Detroit. In 2009, he prepared to play professional basketball in Europe after his college graduation. His life suddenly changed course, when he was shot twice in the back while leaving a convenience store in Connecticut.
Thomas was not offered services after release from the hospital that would help him adjust to the loss of his career or address the trauma of being shot. He said he lost forty friends to gun violence.
He urged the Committee to invest in critical crime survivor services, saying:
Too many survivors of crime never receive the care and support they need. We have a tremendous opportunity to invest in communities most impacted by crime and violence to prevent crime from happening in the first place.
Thomas now the National Organizing Director for the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ). ASJ is a national organization of crime survivors and a CAPPS partner. ASJ and CAPPS advocates for new safety priorities by advancing policies that help communities most harmed by crime and violence.
Thomas also referenced an ASJ national survey of crime survivors found that the overwhelming majority of crime survivors support investments in treatment, rehabilitation, and services to help crimes survivors heal. The survey found,
Six in 10 victims prefer shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation rather than prison sentences that keep people incarcerated for as long as possible.
Thomas uses his life experiences and those of other crime survivors he works with to inform his criminal justice policy recommendations. He closed his testimony saying:
We must invest in serving survivors, prevention, and recovery, rather than incarceration. What we invest in grows. Let’s invest in new safety priorities that create stronger and healthier communities across the state of Michigan.
Shari Ware, founder of Still Standing Against Domestic Violence and a survivor of domestic violence, called for more trauma-informed services. Still Standing is a nonprofit organization serving men, women, and children affected by domestic violence through education, prevention, and awareness.
The Detroit-based nonprofit also facilitates a batterer’s intervention program, RedeeMEd, which provides an educational environment to help batterers identify and acknowledge their use of violence. The 26th District Court in Detroit refers batterers to RedeeMEd.
Ware emphasized the importance of addressing the roots of the domestic violence.
RedeeMEd asks program participants to relearn, rebuild, and replace every negative action, word, thought, and deed that they have exhibited in their lifetime.
Over the decade the program has operated, Ware learned batterers are also victims, saying:
They also have suffered the same kind of trauma that women and children have suffered at the hands of someone who said that they loved them.
Ware urged Committee members it is critical to implement a trauma-informed care system. She said:
We need an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma-informed care emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both consumers and providers.
A trauma-informed care model is an investment in the community. The model creates a system to support crime victims and reduce recidivism by addressing the drivers of crime. Outlining the lasting affects of untreated trauma on a community, Ware said:
We believe trauma-informed care is important because everyone pays a price when a community produces multi-generations of people with untreated trauma through an increase in crime, loss of wages, and a threat to family stability.
After a question and answer session, Rep. Kesto concluded the hearing by thanking Thomas and Ware for their testimony.