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Colorado’s brain injury testing revealing for justice system

A recent Denver Post article’s reference to “poor judgment, impulsiveness, lack of inhibitions, short temper and inability to solve problems” might reasonably link in many people’s minds to descriptors of individuals embroiled in the criminal justice system.

It is in fact a recitation of symptoms that are common in people with serious traumatic brain injuries.

And, indeed, researchers have found a close tie between TBI manifestations and a high number of Colorado residents who are currently incarcerated, on probation or participating in drug court programs.

Key findings from a federally funded study effort reveal that a stunningly high percentage of detainees suffer from serious head injuries. A tandem team of University of Denver specialists and Colorado state regulators concludes that a TBI history is flatly common among individuals with criminal records. The sheer prevalence of significant brain/head injuries among criminal offenders spells “a new narrative,” says one principal researcher.

In fact, he notes, it paints a compelling picture “of the most vulnerable segment of our entire community population.”

Should a history of TBI episodes fully exonerate an individual implicated in criminal activity?

No one from the research team is suggesting that it should.

A broad consensus has certainly emerged that traumatic brain injury should be looked at closely when its symptoms are apparent in an offender, though. If criminal culpability is arguably tied more to a medical condition than it is to volitional behavior, justice demands that evidence suggesting that be fully considered.

Ten states are currently engaged in the above-cited federally funded TBI study involving criminal offenders, with Colorado leading the effort.

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