‘I cannot dismiss from my mind your traumatic and tragic upbringing’: Trauma-informed sentencing in South Australia

Ms Katherine McLachlan1,2

1Justice and Society, UniSA, Adelaide, 2Parole Board

Using a trauma-informed practice framework, this presentation explains how judges of South Australian superior courts identify and understand defendant trauma in sentencing. Trauma-informed sentencing requires that judges realise the presence of trauma, recognise its relevance, respond in a way that is informed by trauma and act to avoid re-traumatisation. Sentencing remarks, while not holistic summaries of judges’ reasoning are intended to enable the parties and the community to understand the sentencing logic. By analysing a sample of 448 sentencing remarks from 2019, the presence of trauma-informed practice was explored, in terms of judicial decision-making, the sentencing process and the sanction imposed. Analysis indicated that judges realised trauma was present in the lives of approximately half of all defendants but did not always overtly recognise a link between trauma and criminal behaviour and even when they did recognise a link, this did not guarantee a trauma-informed sentencing response. In cases where judges intended to impose a trauma-informed sanction, their practice was not always evidence-informed. Policy and practice recommendations that have arisen from this research are discussed.


Ideally, by the time of the ANZAPPL Congress, Katherine will have submitted her PhD. She has been a full-time PhD Candidate at UniSA (Justice and Society) since 2018 and a RTPd PhD Scholarship recipient (2018-2021). She has been a member of the Parole Board of South Australia since 2015. Her PhD focused on trauma-informed sentencing and was informed by her years on the Parole Board, interviewing individuals with complex trauma histories. In addition, Katherine has an Honours degree in psychology, a Research Masters in Law,  and is a teaching academic at UniSA. She is also a member of the SA ANZAPPL Committee.

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