Almost half of Ontario prisoners have suffered at least one traumatic brain injury, says a new study by the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
Using data gathered from three men’s correctional facilities and one female facility, researchers found 43 per cent of prisoners had a history of traumatic brain injuries, typically the result of a blow to the head.
Of those, 62 per cent were men, while 37 per cent were women. More than half of the affected women experienced a traumatic brain injury before or during the year leading up to their first criminal offence.
“It’s not enough just to screen for the injuries,” says Dr. Angela Colantonio, lead author of the study, published Thursday in the Journal of Correctional Health Care.
“We want to ensure an underlying brain injury is not an overlooked factor … ethically we should be providing the supports necessary to address the underlying conditions.”
Many prisoners who reported a TBI also reported increased alcohol use and substance abuse.
Addressing TBIs could lead to improved rehabilitation and lower rates of recidivism, Colantonio said, since in some cases TBIs result in cognitive impairment or behavioural changes.
It’s one of the “great sleeper issues in criminology and good corrections policy,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society.
“Authorities are heavily focused on mental health issues, but they don’t always look at injury to the brain, which also affects behaviour,” Latimer said. Latimer and Colantonio agree there needs to be a lot more research.
“It would be nice to find ways to deal with the brain injury and give coping skills rather than making it criminal,” Latimer said.