By Pamela Nathan
Here is a statistic which Julia May says “smacks you in the face”. In the general population about 2 percent of people have an acquired brain injury (ABI), whilst in Victorian male prisons, at least 42 per cent of inmates are affected—and about 6 per cent with a severe ABI. That was according to a 2011 report.
The international consensus, based on studies on ABI in western prisons, puts it even higher, at 60 per cent!
I wonder how high the ABI rate is in the NT? All talk about the revolving door of repeat offenders and the inference is they lack remorse and don’t learn! At least 60 per cent??!!
What does this all mean? More than one in three offenders will reoffend! Side effects of an ABI include: memory loss, aggression, impulsivity, lack of anger control, disinhibition, increased substance usage and reduced insight.
John Eyre, the CEO of Arbrias, which provides support services and has developed an assessment tool calls the ABI “insidious”. He says “We call it the silent disability because by the time a person has even a mild one, they have a disability but they don’t know it”.
John Eyre continues to comment on the offender in court and his rehabilitation prospects: “It’s very common for a person with an ABI to be before a judge in the criminal court and say, “I know it was wrong to do that” and go out and do it again. “They’ll say it’s wrong because that’s what they have been led to say. But in reality they’ve lost insight, the ability to problem-solve, to plan, and organise themselves. All of these things can lead to unlawful behaviour”.
Victoria’s Public Advocate Colleen Pearce says: “Without early intervention they end up getting in deeper and deeper into the criminal justice system”.
May reports that: “even seasoned criminal justice experts have been blown away by the magnitude of the problem” since ABI screening tools were developed and they say “It’s a hidden epidemic”.
There is the Arbias assessment screening tool. A spokesmen for Corrections Victoria says the state prisons use the Arbias screening tool when assessing new prisoners and provide tailored programs delivered by specialist staff.
John Eyre remains dubious about how well the tool is being used as staff need training in its usage. He says there is a growing awareness of ABI in courts, police forces and governments, but prisons remain “a frontier that we’re yet to get to. We have to make sure that when people get out of prison and they’re suspected of having or do have an ABI, that we are more successful of keeping them out of prison”.
We hear about the “uncivilised drunks” who have reoffended “yet again” in the NT, but do we hear about ABIs and assessment and treatment ?????
ABIs need urgent attention and recognition and treatment!