Advocacy by and for People with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury)
Public Policy of Brain Injury Network 09-04-2010
The Board of Directors of the Brain Injury Network approved these positions of public policy:
1. Most People with TBI are Law Abiding Citizens; Incarcerated Criminals with TBI; Societal Norms and Conventions; Conclusion
Most People with TBI are Law Abiding Citizens: The traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor community wants society to know that most tbi survivors are lawful members of society who do not commit crimes. As in the general citizenry there are some bad apples, but by no means are the majority of “persons with tbi” criminals or bad apples. Any potential mistaken impression that most people with tbi have a proclivity to commit crimes adds to the stigma associated with tbi. People with tbi must already endure a great deal of stigma. We do not need any impressions circulated that many of us have a propensity to commit crimes or will act outside of the law.
We at Brain Injury Network have met, written, or spoken with so many survivors by now, truly thousands, and only a very few of the thousands we have interacted with were in prison, so, we know that it is not so common a thing for a person with a tbi to be incarcerated. No one should presume that most people with tbi are criminals or are in prison or are violent, etc. However, it may be that some people in prison have brain injuries and some people with tbi can be violent. But to be clear, there are many people in prison who do not have tbi, and there are many violent people who do not have tbi.
Incarcerated Prisoners with TBI: We, the organized tbi survivor community, can say that we welcome additional interventions to help prisoners who have tbi and especially violent individuals. Criminal and/or violent individuals, whether or not they have a brain injury, are a threat to us brain injury survivors as well as to the rest of society. As a matter of fact, people with tbi in the general citizenry are even more fragile and less likely to be able to deal with victimization by criminals than other members of society. We tbi survivors, like anyone else, would like to see more successful strategies that will deal with crime in general.
Regarding prisoners with tbi, tbi compensatory strategies should be an aspect of their prison rehabilitation. We applaud efforts to design special interventions that address their tbi issues. Accordingly, we encourage the prison justice system to develop and implement programs specifically tailored to improve outcomes for individuals in prison who have tbi or other forms of brain injury.
It should be noted that in the case of some non-violent offenders with tbi, they may not have ended up in the criminal justice system at all had they had appropriate interventions out in society earlier, for example for drug addiction brought on by inability to cope with tbi. Sometimes the criminal justice system is the last “safety net” and some people with brain injuries end up in the criminal system because there was literally no other system for them, and they needed a system. They needed structure. They were at their wit’s end, they broke the law, and they finally caught the attention of somebody, namely, the police. Sometimes it is only the police and courts who will take action. Sometimes that is what happened, although not always. Had some of these individuals received adequate rehabilitation from tbi in the community, who knows? Perhaps many would not have ended up in prison at all.
Societal Norms and Conventions: Additionally, we recognize that many people with tbi have all kinds of issues, which translate not to criminal behaviors, but socially unacceptable ones. But there is a difference between criminal behaviors and socially unacceptable behaviors. Society, appropriately, completely objects to criminal behaviors (violence, harming another individual, dealing drugs, etc). However, society is somewhat more tolerant of socially inappropriate behaviors. Many people with tbi may or may not have additional issues with socially inappropriate behaviors that relate back to tbi. Some of these include not being able to work, using profanity, not keeping up their property, being a hoarder, or using too much alcohol, etc. These are all examples of inappropriate behavior, but these generally do not necessarily rise to the level of being any kind of criminal behavior. These are examples of merely unacceptable behavior, and there is a big difference.
Society will tolerate certain unacceptable behaviors (not criminal behaviors, but somewhat socially unacceptable behaviors ) . And we agree that society doesn't like any form of socially unacceptable behavior. Frankly, society doesn't like any of that whether there is a "good" excuse (such as brain injury) or not, and we can't really blame society for that.
Society has its norms and conventions as to what is acceptable conduct. We must all adhere to the norms of appropriate life style and behavior, which includes not committing crimes, not being violent, and not engaging in addictive behaviors with drugs and alcohol, etc. These norms are good for society in general and they are good for people with brain injuries also. We do not dispute that, in fact, we encourage people with brain injuries to carry on in life utilizing high standards of moral and ethical and acceptable conduct, just like everyone else. Sometimes people with tbi need some help achieving that kind of optimal behavior. Society could help. Society could help create a community safety net for people with tbi who need structure and support, etc.
Conclusion: So, we would like society to appreciate that most people with TBI are law abiding members of society and are living within accepted standards of conduct. However, there is a substratum of individuals with tbi, who, for whatever reason or reasons, and sometimes there is a brain injury component to that, are incarcerated. They have been convicted of criminal acts, sometimes even violent acts, although often the crime might involve drug abuse or something along those lines as opposed to violent crime. We individuals in the TBI survivor community realize that these convicted criminals with TBI need help to get rehabilitated as to both criminal tendencies or dispositions and to deal with their additional traumatic brain injury issues. There is always room for improvement in any system, and the tbi survivor community applauds any efforts to improve the prison system.
Some people with tbi may be socially inappropriate at times and could use community supports. A tolerant society is an enlightened society and vice-versa.