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Prison Inmates with Brain Injuries

Prison and Traumatic Brain Injury

By John Simpson

This is an update to what I have found and learned about acquired brain injury and our prisons over the last three years. In December of 2004, a rehabilitation unit opened for inmates at the Regional Treatment Centre, Pacific Institution. This is a federal institution and part of Corrections Services in Canada. They address the needs of those with neurological issues, including acquired brain injury.

There is a support group for inmates with an acquired brain injury, which is totally voluntary and which I have been part of from the time it started. From this group, I have certainly learned much about how individuals with acquired brain injury are treated long before they enter the criminal justice system. I have also learned just how difficult it is to help these individuals reintegrate into the community upon release from prison.

Whenever it is possible, I get permission from inmates who have an acquired brain injury to speak to their family members and this I do on a regular basis. It certainly brings out some pretty horrific stories. But I have also learned how many people feel let down by the treatment they received when they were injured. Most of those injuries were sustained many years ago.

A typical scenario from so many of the inmates that I’ve met is that they…

· had more than one period of unconsciousness as a child

· were admitted to a hospital because of a serious concussion or

· had been abused by a father or a mother.

Another familiar scenario was an ordinary event, such as a fall from a bunk bed, that then led to events going downhill. As the child ran into difficulty or began to fail in usual activities, this was followed by a rapid decline with no help from the school and no proper clinical assessment.

Criminal actions usually started by the young person’s involvement with petty crime and using drugs and alcohol. Those who were a little bit older when injured reported losing all their good friends and becoming involved with more risk takers. Then, they were on to more serious crimes, sexual offenses, murder or assault. Many, whether or not they have ever served time, are now in their early 40s and are showing signs of psychiatric problems. Many are under psychiatric care. Now I see an article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry linking marijuana and schizophrenia and other psychiatric issues.

There is, as far as I am concerned, discrimination against those who have disabilities that are not obviously physical in the criminal justice system. In summary, so much more is needed to raise awareness to recognize the effects of brain injury, regardless of cause, in children, youth, and adults. Having appropriate evaluations done is essential to receiving appropriate treatment. It would be naïve to think everyone will be guided to a wonderful life, but I am confident there would be improvement. So much more needs to be done to raise awareness through education in our prisons and in our schools and communities.

Contact information
John Simpson jmsim@shaw.ca
PO Box 753
Harrison Hot Springs, BC V0M 1K0 Canada