Although a great majority of brain injury news has focused on football players and the military, reports have revealed that another group of people suffer from a relatively high number of traumatic brain injuries: prisoners. An article by the Scientific American notes that while 8.5 percent of U.S. non-incarcerated citizens have a history of TBI, approximately 60 percent of adults out of the two million in prison have had at least one TBI.
Those that suffer from TBI can have difficulty with controlling behavior, emotion, and impulse. Concussions, the most common type of brain injury, can cause increases in anger and may experience memory problems. Many prisoners, however, don’t have a medical trail of TBIs for a number of reasons. Doctors might have missed a diagnosis or people who did suffer a head injury might not seek medical attention. People also might not be aware of injuries that incurred when they were young.
A South Carolina study found that the average reported number of TBIs for an individual prisoner was about four, while some reported up to a dozen.
Living with a brain injury that hasn’t been treated can lead to a longer time in prison because inmates with TBIs might find it difficult to remember rules or respond to instruction. Brain injuries also increase the likelihood that people will partake in substance abuse or suffer from other mental problems. According to the CDC, male prisoners with a history of TBI is strongly associated with perpetration of domestic and other kinds of violence, which can lead to disciplinary action by prison staff.
But brain injuries aren’t just prevalent in adult prisoners; TBIs have also shown up as a trend in incarcerated children. Jeffrey Kreutzer of the VCU Medical Center explains that 20 percent of kids in jail have suffered from a brain injury. He’s teamed up with the Department of Juvenile Justice to create a program to help identify children in the system with brain injuries. Because of their age, effectively treating the children’s brain injuries early enough could help them leave the juvenile system without as much likelihood of relapsing into the adult system.
According to Gordon, the average age when substance abusers had their first injury was 14. Early action is crucial to the development of the person suffering from one or multiple TBIs. Increased health screenings, evaluations, and treatment for inmates, both young and old, can help prisoners avoid future substance abuse and behavioral problems for the duration of their sentence, and for their future. Gordon explains that this proactive approach is an example of “using screening and identification as prevention—and what you’re preventing is a social failure.”