Pilot program identifies brain injuries in inmates

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By Russ McQuaid

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (February 8, 2015) — Each year five thousand offenders leave the Indiana prison system to return to the streets of Marion County where the recidivism rate may be as high as 30 percent.

A recent survey has determined that one out of every ten of those returning offenders may be suffering the aftereffects of traumatic brain injury and that could be the explanation for their difficulties living in a law abiding society.

“Nationally the data shows that almost 60 percent of people who have a history of incarceration also have a traumatic injury,” said Lena Hackett of Community Solutions, project manager for the four-year $1 million federal grant. “If you have a traumatic brain injury you have difficulty multi-tasking. You have difficulty when people instruct you on three things at one time. You have difficulty remembering any of those three things. You tend to have outbursts of emotion anger. You get disoriented and if you’re in a correctional system those can be seen as non-compliance.”

In one month at PACE on the city’s eastside, 300 ex-offenders seeking job and resume training and references have been screened for TBI.

One out of ten has shown symptoms.

“For them it’s this mix of relief that it kind of explains some things about them to themselves and to their mom and their grandmom or whoever is coming with them and it’s a mix of frustration that if only they had known about this a while ago and been able to get treatment and maybe their life would have been different,” said Hackett.

Antwan Minor is one of those clients who has been out of prison, wants to stay out, but remembers the day he was stung by 15 bees and fell out of a tree.

“I fell on my back and head,” he said. “It knocked the wind out of me and got me confused for a little bit.”

“I never thought of it that why but when I sit back and diagnose on that I do see that sometimes it takes a longer time for me,” said Minor. “Like a normal person probably thinks something through it might take them 10 or 15 minutes. It might take me I would have to think about it over and over again because I want to see if it’s the right way before I present it to the next person because I don’t want to look weird in somebody else’s eyes or look that different.”

Daniel Freeman blames excessive drinking more than the lump on the head he received fighting with the police during one arrest.

“I never realized. I never gave it a thought,” he said. “You get a head injury you get up you’re okay.”

“I think if they study it and do it and make people feel comfortable knowing it’s okay to say you got hit in the head maybe that’s the reason you did it. Not to be in denial or use that as a reason to just say I can go act stupid, I think it would help.”

PACE screeners help connect clients with social and rehabilitation agencies to teach coping skills or even provide medication to overcome the effects of TBI.

Based on Marion County’s success, the program will soon be expanded to Allen County and into Indiana prisons where corrections officials will be taught to recognize TBI in an inmate and tailor responses to help that offender serve time and stay out of trouble.

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