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Canadian Documentary Exposes Brain Injury in Prisoners

What is the long-term consequence of a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? For far too many head injury survivors, the future involves incarceration. Now a Canadian documentary calls out the disturbing prevalence of brain injury among prisoners.

In A Change of Mind, Hilary Pryor of May Street Productions shows how TBI can send a person into jail or prison. According to the documentary, 165,000 Canadians suffer a traumatic brain injury every year. When these head injuries go undiagnosed and untreated, they can lead to behavior and emotional changes that lead straight to jail.

Pryor reports that she began working on the project after she learned how prominent TBI is among incarcerated populations worldwide. Here in the U.S., as many as 87% of prisoners have experienced a brain injury in the past. Outside of prison, that number drops to just 8%. Pryor told CBC Canada:

“The key thing is those brain injuries, for the most part, were incurred before there was any criminal behaviour. . . . It has huge implications for how we deal with people who are transgressing against the law.”

An undiagnosed brain injury can cause big problems for even the most put together accident victims. Depending on the part of the brain that is injured, motorists could find themselves facing problems with:

  • Interpersonal interactions
  • Emotional control
  • Cognitive processing, and
  • Memory.

They may not even realize that they have broken the law or remember what they did that was illegal. In other cases, people with undiagnosed brain injuries may turn to controlled substances, like alcohol, marijuana, or harder drugs, to manage their life-altering symptoms. When that happens, they may soon find themselves behind bars.

Derick Forsyth is one such prisoner. He suffered a traumatic brain injury after a serious car accident. It caused him to have to relearn basic living skills like walking, cooking, reading, and even talking. It also landed him in jail.

“It’s kind of shocking when I see the amount of people who are in jail who are undiagnosed. They have a brain injury and nobody’s doing anything about it. They’re just keeping them in the system and revolving them,” he said.

“There’s a reason why the person keeps coming back to the hospital or keeps coming back to the jail — it’s because they have a brain injury that’s undiagnosed. They’re self-medicating.”

The Canadian documentary calls out the need for TBI screening in jails and prisons worldwide. By properly identifying concussions and their effects, corrections facilities can help prisoners heal within a controlled environment, and stop the revolving door of incarceration.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He helps Michigan motorists who suffer TBI because of an auto accident. If you have a head injury, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.