54% in CO Justice System Have Serious Brain Injury

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Illustration by a Health Blog via Flickr

Researchers have screened 4,100 people in jail, on probation or assigned to drug courts in Denver and five other Colorado counties to find out how many have traumatic brain injury — an impairment that could impact the likelihood of their return to the criminal justice system.

The results were stark: 54 percent had a history of serious brain injury, compared with 8 percent of the general population, the Denver Post reports. “This is a picture of the most vulnerable segment of our entire community population,” said Dr. Kim Gorgens, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Denver, which runs the project along with the Colorado Department of Human Services. “This is not a group of serial murderers or notable psychopaths. This is the standard, average, typical probationer or jail inmate.”

Finding out they have traumatic brain injury changes inmates’ perspectives. “It’s a new narrative — so much more empowering than thinking, ‘I’m a loser. I’m a failure.’ That’s been so stunning,” Gorgens said.

Discovering that the impairment affects their “auditory memory” and they should write everything down in a notebook or that they are prone to impulsiveness and should take multiple steps before making decisions can change the trajectory of their lives, Gorgens said.

About 100 people with the most serious impairments have been linked with a case manager from the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado and invited to attend the organization’s classes and workshops. Doctoral students in psychology who conduct the screens give written recommendations for support to the person’s probation officer, the drug court or the jail.

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