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Press Release

Brain Injury Association of Minnesota
34 13th Avenue, Northeast
Suite B001
Minneapolis, MN 55413
Pat Marciniak
Public Awareness Director

Traumatic Brain Injury in Prisons

(Minneapolis - January 29, 2008) – A recent study conducted by the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has linked the occurrence of an undiagnosed brain injury in an individual’s past to complications in their current daily life. The report goes on to note the cognitive and behavioral problems a brain injury can lead to and the ensuing results of these issues including alcoholism and addiction as well as chronic homelessness. An article in the Wall Street Journal cited specific examples involving the impairment of two professionals and a school-aged child.

Left out of the report was the effect brain injury can have on a state's prison population. The Brain Injury Association of Minnesota, the only statewide non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of the 100,000 Minnesotans living with a disability due to brain injury, addresses this issue every day as the Minnesota prison population begins to decrease as a result of shorter sentences and earlier releases. As more prisoners leave the corrections world, often undiagnosed brain injuries can result in behaviors that lead an ex-offender back on the road to incarceration.

Fortunately, the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota, as part of its involvement with the Traumatic Brain Injury in Correctional Facilities project, has been working to address the high incidences of brain injury in correctional facilities with screenings, staff education and intervention and release strategies.

Having a TBI can exacerbate difficult conditions within a prison setting. Issues such as memory loss, impulse control and anger management can lead to confrontations between other inmates and prison staff. Identifying a prisoner as someone with a brain injury can lead to a better understanding in terms of day to day management and discipline.

Until recently, inmates were given initial screenings at check-in that included basic health and chemical dependency evaluations, but did not include screening for traumatic brain injury. This began to change in April of 2006 when Minnesota was awarded a state grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) to fund its Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in Correctional Facilities project.

The project's developers, headed by the Interagency Leadership Council, include the Department of Human Services, Minnesota Department of Health, Brain Injury Association of Minnesota and Department of Corrections. The purpose of this grant was to identify incidences of brain injury in correctional facilities, build awareness and education of brain injury to correctional facility staff and all persons working within the legal system and address a system of release planning that would assist a smooth transition back into community.

Initial screenings of 998 male inmates were conducted from September 2006 to January 2007. While the initial numbers of inmates reporting TBI were high (82 percent) they were consistent with findings from studies done in New Zealand (86 percent), U.S. county jails (87 percent) and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (88 percent). In the summer of 2007, 100 female inmates were screened with 96 percent reporting having a TBI. A screening of fifty juvenile males at the Red Wing facility resulted in 98 percent reporting a TBI.

The TBI in Minnesota Correctional Facilities project is using these findings to supplement the already effective systems the Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services have for working with offenders who have serious and persistent mental illness. The Brain Injury Association of Minnesota has been collaborating with both departments to develop educational programs for correctional staff and presentations for correctional administrators. So far, the Association’s educational service has conducted thirty trainings and received very positive feedback from corrections participants, with evaluations consistently returning above average scores.

One of the goals of the TBI in Correctional Facilities project is a re-evaluation of the intervention strategies used in situations involving prisoners with TBI. The idea would be to educate corrections staff and offenders so that the actions of an individual with memory issues, or impulsivity issues, would be reviewed with the TBI in mind and that appropriate steps would be taken to ensure future issues would be avoided.

The Brain Injury Association of Minnesota has been helping people adjust to life with a disability due to brain injury since its inception, and finding resources for ex-offenders has always been a part of their work. The ongoing study done by the TBI in Minnesota Correctional Facilities project will help the Association in their efforts to combat recidivism, educate the public about the effects of brain injury and train individuals to become their own advocates.