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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

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We all know by now that Traumatic Brain Injury is the signature wound of the Iraq War. Explosions that would have killed soldiers in previous wars are now less often fatal, due to the improved protective qualities of military helmets. What happens, however, is that the brain is knocked around inside the skull, as the head forcibly hits the helmet during the explosion. The result is less fatalities, but more brain injuries. According to the Defense Department, more than 134,000 service men and women suffered traumatic brain injuries from 2003 through 2009. The military has planned clinical trials using pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber to determine if the technique can help brain-injury sufferers heal.

From The Associated Press:
The U.S. military plans clinical trials next year to see whether breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber might help thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

About 300 service members with mild to moderate damage will participate in the trials of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help determine whether it can help them heal, or at least ease the headaches, mood swings or other symptoms linked to brain injury.

Some will spend a total of 40 hours over 10 weeks breathing pure oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber, where the atmospheric pressure is increased to a level similar to what they would experience about 20 feet under water.

According to the Defense Department, more than 134,000 service men and women suffered traumatic brain injuries from 2003 through 2009.

Read the story here.

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One of Jack's concerns is the frequency of traumatic brain injuries in prisons and their affect on inmates in a prison environment. A few years ago, it would be almost impossible to find literature on this topic, but thanks to the growing body of knowledge about TBI, and its movement into the public consciousness (primarily due to the Iraq War), information on TBI is easier to find than ever before. To be sure, TBI and the Criminal Justice System is lagging somewhat behind other areas in terms of information available, but the field is steadily growing (as is TBI and the Homeless population).

The following is from the National Disability Rights Network:

Increasingly, large numbers of persons with mental illness, cognitive disabilities and/or physical disabilities are coming into contact with the adult correctional system. It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of prisoners have a mental illness or other type of disability. Jails and prisons have become the “new asylums” -- a costly response to mental health care.

From arrest through every phase of the criminal justice system, persons with disabilities encounter a system not designed to handle large numbers of persons with disabilities. Lack of access to community mental health treatment and other public services often results in people with disabilities being arrested and booked in jails where adequate treatment is unlikely. When competency is an issue, delays in transporting such individuals for treatment are commonplace. Those who are convicted and confined in penal facilities tend to serve longer sentences than others convicted of similar crimes, and prison conditions are harsher due to their disabilities.

Persons with disabilities often encounter an absence of justice in a system not designed to handle a large number of persons with disabilities.

Why are inmates with TBI or some form of mental illness not hospitalized in a state hospital? Why are they going to prison in ever increasing numbers?

A few years ago, Frontline produced an in-depth look at Ohio's prison system, and why it houses so many mentally ill individuals. Although this program focuses on mental illness, who's to say whether some of the prisoners filmed had also suffered a TBI. But mental illness or TBI, the sheer wrongness of incarcerating sufferers with either condition is obvious.

The opening sentences of the Frontline introduction:
Fewer than 55,000 Americans currently receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, almost 10 times that number -- nearly 500,000 -- mentally ill men and women are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons. As sheriffs and prison wardens become the unexpected and often ill-equipped caretakers of this burgeoning population, they raise a troubling new concern: Have America's jails and prisons become its new asylums?
You can watch the entire show here. Please let us know what you think. We'll be writing more about TBI and prisons this year.

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