The Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania is recognizing the Graterford Prison for its work with inmates. As part of a 2-year program, the Montgomery County facility is screening prisoners for undiagnosed brain trauma as they approach their release date.
“Most of the guys really don’t have a good understanding that these things could have changed the course of their life…that these things would have affected them in ways that were long term,” said M.J. Schmidt of the Brain Injury Association.
More than 150 prisoners have been screened so far, with more than half having histories of head trauma resulting in unconsciousness and other serious injuries. For many of the prisoners, the events took place years or decades ago, commonly during fights or domestic assaults. The effects of those traumas, according to Schmidt, can still impact behavior.
“The fact that I have a bad memory, the fact that my temper gets hot really quickly, could be related back to these injuries, [that’s] new information to them,” he said.
Once prisoners are identified as having a brain injury, staff at Graterford work to coordinate rehabilitation programs and other supports to help the men cope with life on the outside.
“The whole goal of the project is to connect them with resources in the community that might help them further make progress so that they don’t come back,” said Scott Buchanan, who runs mental health services for inmates in eastern Pennsylvania. “We are trying to avoid recidivism, and get them hooked up with job training programs or brain injury programs so that they can continue to make progress and not get into trouble.”
The program is supported through a two-year grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Funds will run out in October, though officials hope to extend the program and even expand the brain injury screenings to more facilities, including women’s prisons.