Brain Injury, Criminal Justice & Reentry - Part 2

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Thursday - August 08, 2013.

According to "Traumatic Brain Injury and the US Criminal Justice System", published by the US Department of Health and Human Services, October, 2011: 

"The overall estimate of TBI prevalence in the adult offender population is approximately 60%. Unlike certain infectious diseases, like HIV, hepatitis and TB, screening at intake or within correctional facilities for TBI is not a routine standard of care. Even if TBI is identified, inmates often lack access to care and services that would help them manage symptoms and successfully re-enter society . . . .  

Inmates with TBI may experience:

  • ongoing symptoms which can lead to disciplinary and other problems during incarceration

  • Memory and attention deficits - two common symptoms of TBI - that often lead to behavior viewed as defiance or laziness

  • Irritability, impulsivity or anger - which can lead to aggressive behavior/punishment and the risk of subsequent head injuries

  • Mental health problems, such as severe depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts" (Traumatic Brain Injury and the US Criminal Justice System, US Department of Health and Human Services, October, 2011)

Instructors from the Brain Injury Association of PA presented the following additional information about undiagnosed brain injury in the recent Brain Injury training co-sponsored by the Lancaster County RMO and the Brain Injury Association of PA.

Undiagnosed brain injury is often referred to as the "hidden" disability, and can cause cognitive problems such as:
  • poor judgment

  • poor memory

  • lack of good communication skills

  • behavioral and personality problems and disorders

  • poor social skills

People with brain injury may

  • drop out of school

  • be unable to obtain or maintain a job

  • be poor risk takers, resulting in incarceration in adult and juvenile correctional systems

The HELPS Brain Injury Screening Tool, developed by M. Picard, D. Scarisbrick and R. Paluck, and updated by the Michigan Department of Community Health, can help to determine whether a person may have a brain injury.  Professionals working with a client can ask a client whether they have experienced any of the following: 

H - Hit your head or been hit on the head?

E - Emergency room?

L - Lose consciousness or dazed/confused?

P - Problems in your daily life?

S - Sickness, disease of the central nervous system?

In our next article, we'll explore how TBI problems can be addressed for the clients we serve and some resources to help.

About the Author

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). She was a featured TEDx speaker at the first-ever TEDx event in Lancaster.  http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Breaking-out-of-prison-thinking 

She is an NIC-certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, a certified Global Career Development Facilitator, and a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Healing Communities model. She is also a trained restorative justice mediator.

Prior to Melanie's involvement with the RMO, she spent several years researching and writing the book Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (Brethren Press, 2009), which tells the true story of a woman who volunteered in Pennsylvania's state prisons for over 30 years, creating inmate education and reentry programs based on principles of restorative justice. After Grace Goes to Prison was published, Melanie traveled throughout the United States, doing speaking engagements and meeting with other reentry and restorative justice professionals to discuss criminal justice issues and exchange information and ideas.