Recently, ChildWise Institute had worked hard with bi-partisan legislative leaders on a Bill to promote a pilot project based on the science of ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience. Unfortunately, it was tabled (read: failed).
ChildWise has been working with legislators for 6 years now (3 legislative sessions) that have wanted to use ACEs as a public policy issue and a legislative Bill. Those efforts have been unsuccessful so far. It’s something every state needs to accomplish — but I think there’s a problem. From my experience, I have yet to see anything ACEs that could be effective, appropriate legislation. Back in 2013, I was invited to meet with a legislator and another person with whom I work occasionally (Erin Butts). Representative Dunwell had attended a 40-minute ACEs presentation I did at the Capitol for legislators while the 2013 Session was in. I had about 25 people in the room, Rep. Dunwell was one of them, and so was Representative Karjala. ACEs hit both of them square in the face, as it does most folks. Rep. Dunwell was hot to create a Bill based on ACEs. Erin and I were asking her what she wanted to do/accomplish with this Bill, and Erin said something that I repeat often and agree with completely – “ACEs is about compassion, how do you legislate compassion?” Nevertheless, a Bill was crafted and presented at the 2013 Committee Hearing. I even worked with Dr. Rob Anda, who was kind enough to write and sign a personal letter asking the legislators to give serious consideration to passing that Bill. The, I had a copy of that letter delivered to the desk of every legislator while they were on the floor during the session.
This is the struggle I see in many states that are trying to make legislation out of ACEs. To me, ACEs can and should change policy in agencies and organizations, such as the Dept. of Human Services and Office of Public Instruction. But I don’t think it can be public policy necessarily. In this 2017 legislative session, Representative Karjala worked with ChildWise and others to get another ACEs-based Bill passed, and as I mentioned at the top of this article, it failed. Not because Rep. Karjala lacked passion or determination, but (in my opinion) you can’t legislate compassion. There certainly other reasons the Hearing Committee did not pass the Bill, such as no specific measurable outcomes, but it doesn’t mean the last six years of pressing the science of ACEs forward with legislators isn’t getting any traction.
Here’s a really great step forward, as seen in today’s local newspaper!
Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a package of bills that seek to reduce costs for the state public defender’s office and help reduce recidivism. One bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to establish a pilot project in up to four regions that would put clients in touch with social workers and other services that might help address the reasons they got in trouble with the law.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are already trying the “holistic defense” pilot project and say it has cut recidivism in half among chronic offenders who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Social workers help offenders obtain driver’s licenses, jobs, housing and medical care.
Reducing recidivism would reduce caseloads for the public defender’s office, which has seen a 30 percent increase in caseloads since 2012. Public defenders have said they didn’t always feel like they are providing adequate representation to their clients.