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One in two inmates has brain injury


One in two inmates has brain injury

Up to half of Victorian prisoners have an acquired brain injury, a consultant psychiatrist says.


Dr Danny Sullivan, assistant clinical director for the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, known as Forensicare, likened prisons to psychiatric hospitals because a significant proportion of offenders suffered a range of mental disorders, which often went undiagnosed.


Police and correctional staff now received more training on how to recognise mental disorders, had better access to mental health staff and also used national standards for evidence-based screening tests of people entering prison.


But prisons did not routinely screen for acquired brain injuries, he said.


''Acquired brain injury is the hidden terror in our prisons,'' Dr Sullivan said. ''The estimates are between 25 and 50 per cent of prisoners have an acquired brain injury in some jurisdictions.''


Advertisement This compared with about 2 per cent in the community.


''It's linked to substance use, which we know clusters in prisons. The quality and quantity of substance use from prisoners makes it more likely that they've been subject to either persistent toxic levels of alcohol or other substances,'' he said.


Dr Sullivan cited a Corrections Victoria study of a random sample of prisoners who underwent neuro-psychological tests. In the overall prison population, 42 per cent of men and 33 per cent of women had acquired brain injury.


''These are not people who tell you 'I was in a coma for three weeks and have a large scar from the neurosurgery'. These are people who ... might manifest that only in disordered behaviour, poor organisation, propensity towards substance use - in other words, things which you find in offending populations,'' he said.'


Dr Sullivan said about 11 per cent of young offenders in youth justice centres and children's courts also had an intellectual disability, which often went undiagnosed. This was a particular problem for those at the mild end of the spectrum who acted out in class rather than admitting to having learning difficulties.


Speaking to lawyers at the national access to justice and pro bono conference in Melbourne last week, Dr Sullivan said that when explaining to a mentally ill client their rights, it was important to try to recognise a disorder early on.


''No one's expecting you to be a clinician or take a comprehensive medical history, but you might want to ask about a person's progress through school.''

References and further information

The original article was produced by The Age.


To view this article, visit the The Age website.


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