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