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Hamilton Local HSJCC is part of a new study on ABI in inmates

July 17, 2014

A Hamilton-Wentworth (HW) Corrections – Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Working Group that was created last October out of the Hamilton Local Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee have been busy analysing and following up on results from a recent pilot project.

ABI 101

Acquired brain injury is damage to the brain that occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or degenerative disorder. (Ontario Brain Injury Association).

There are 2 types of ABI:
I. Traumatic – occurs when there is physical trauma to the head
II. Non-traumatic – occurs when there is damage to the brain via illness or metabolic disturbance

There are 3 levels of severity of ABI: mild, moderate & severe.

The working group has a dedicated membership from the Hamilton area brain injury, mental health, correctional services and housing sectors including the CMHA Hamilton Wentworth Court Support Program.

The working group’s mandate is to address the ongoing concerns of adults who have a diagnosed or are suspected of having an ABI (and may also have mental health or addictions issues) and are considered at high risk within the community and/or who have frequent contact with the criminal justice system.

Experiencing ABI can exacerbate mental health and addictions issues, and according to Veronica Pepper, Systems and Services Navigator for Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant ABI Systems Network and co-chair of the working group, ABI can also trigger depression and anxiety symptoms. Alternatively, a person can sustain an ABI as a result of a mental illness complication such as a suicide attempt.

Symptoms of ABI such as irritability, impaired thought organization, decision making, poor anger management, impulsivity and others can also result in individuals with ABI having increased contact with the law. Studies of individual jails and prisons suggest that as many as 87% of inmates report having experienced an ABI.

Recently, the Working Group has been conducting a pilot project using the HELPS Brain Injury Screening Tool at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre. Out of the 16 people using this tool, 14 were flagged for potentially having brain injuries. The goal of the pilot is to identify these individuals and ensure they are being referred to the right support services once they are discharged.

Unfortunately, timely access to appropriate services continues to be an issue with some people spending years on wait lists to receive access to programs. Nevertheless, the working group is determined to follow up with those that have been assessed to see if obtaining access to services decreases their likelihood of coming into contact with the criminal justice system again.

For more on the work of the HW Corrections-ABI Working Group, check out this Powerpoint presentation.

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