Traumatic Brain Injury in Prisons and Jails: An Unrecognized Problem

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Many people in prisons and jails are living with traumatic brain injury (TBI)-related problems that complicate their management and treatment while they are incarcerated. Because most prisoners will be released, these problems will also pose challenges when they return to the community.
According to jail and prison studies, 25-87% of inmates report having experienced a head injury or TBI as compared to 8.5% in a general population reporting a history of TBI.

A Public Health Issue

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes TBI in prisons and jails as an important public health problem.

Prisoners who have had head injuries may also experience mental health problems such as severe depression and anxiety, substance use disorders, difficulty controlling anger, or suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Lack of treatment and rehabilitation for persons with mental health and substance abuse problems while incarcerated increases the probability that they will again abuse alcohol and/or drugs when released. Persistent substance problems can lead to homelessness, return to illegal drug activities, re-arrest, and increased risk of death after release. As a result, criminal justice professionals and TBI experts have suggested the following:

  • Community re-entry staff should be trained to identify a history of TBI and have access to appropriate consultation with other professionals with expertise in TBI.
  • Transition services for released persons returning to communities should accommodate the problems resulting from a TBI.
  • Released persons with mental health and/or substance abuse problems should receive case management services and assistance with placement into community treatment programs.

Read more about this problem and ways to address it:

Traumatic Brain Injury in Prisons and Jails: An Unrecognized Problem (pdf)

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