54 percent of surveyed inmates in Colorado had serious brain injuries. This program aims to keep them from returning to crime.
April 13, 2018
Vinny Zecchino was hit by a car and knocked unconscious while walking to school at age 7. When he was about 12, his uncle whacked him in the head with a baseball bat.
So Zecchino wasn't surprised when a neuropsychological screen at a Denver drug court, where he landed because of his heroin addiction, determined he has traumatic brain injury.
Through a project that began five years ago, researchers have screened 4,100 people in jail, on probation or assigned to drug courts in Denver and five other counties to find out how many have traumatic brain injury — an impairment that could impact the likelihood of their return to the criminal justice system. The results were stark: 54 percent had a history of serious brain injury, compared with 8 percent of the general population.
"This is a picture of the most vulnerable segment of our entire community population," said Dr. Kim Gorgens, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Denver, which runs the project along with the traumatic brain injury division at Colorado Department of Human Services. "This is not a group of serial murderers or notable psychopaths. This is the standard, average, typical probationer or jail inmate."
Finding out they have traumatic brain injury changes inmates' perspectives. "It's a new narrative — so much more empowering than thinking, 'I'm a loser. I'm a failure.' That's been so stunning," Gorgens said.
Discovering that the impairment affects their "auditory memory" and they should write everything down in a notebook or that they are prone to impulsiveness and should take multiple steps before making decisions can change the trajectory of their lives, Gorgens said.