The Child is Father to the Man


Some may have the view that those who commit crimes deserve any punishment the court
system decides to bestow upon them because they knowingly committed a wrongful act. I say
that the person as a whole should be considered when determining sentences, instead of viewing
the crime independently from the experiences that person has had. One cannot be separated from
what they have experienced, because that is the very essence of what shapes their lives. The idea
that a person’s background, particularly their childhood, continues to affect them long into
adulthood cannot be disputed because it is supported by years of research.

An important piece of that research is related to so-called ‘ACE’ studies. ACE is an acronym for
Adverse Childhood Experiences, and was first coined by researchers collecting data for the
CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study in the 1990’s. It was
here that the term ‘ACE score’ was developed, and although it has evolved to have a different
meaning for different studies, one’s ACE score generally determines how many traumatic
experiences they have had prior to the age of eighteen. The published research that resulted from
that study showed that the higher a person’s ACE score, the more likely they were to abuse drugs
and alcohol, experience or perpetrate intimate partner violence, and attempt suicide. High ACE
scores were also linked to increased risk of early death, depression, poor quality of life, and
many other negative factors.

Since the establishment of ACE research in that original study, many subsequent studies have
published data on how the traumatic experiences one has a child can be the determining factor in
many areas of their life. Many of those studies have been conducted on the role childhood
trauma plays in the lives of those who commit crimes. One such study, referred to in it’s
publication as “How Long Must We Live before We Possess Our Own Lives?” examined the
prevalence of ACE in a group of offenders who had been referred to treatment following
convictions of nonsexual child abuse, domestic violence, sexual offenses, and stalking. It was
found that adverse childhood experiences are directly related to criminality in adulthood.

Our society highly values a sense of justice, and along with that the belief that someone received
the punishment that they deserved. But when is the last time that you were able to make a
decision in which your background played no part? Our experiences determine who we are, and
they are the lens through which we view the world. Many people convicted of crimes have been
subjected to experiences that have warped that lens. They have been living without possession of
their own lives. In order to begin the process of healing in the hopes of successful re-entry into
society, treatment for childhood trauma must be offered to those who have been convicted of
crimes. It is easy to look down on someone for an act they may have committed, especially an
act that you consider to be heinous or wrong. It is harder to think about the difficulties that
person has faced in their lifetime, and how you may have made similar decisions had you been in
their position.