by Renee Dudley
The Post and Courier
Local researchers have released new findings on the rates of traumatic brain injury among people in South Carolina's prisons in hopes that better treatment eventually will be available to them.
The $2 million study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that nearly two-thirds of the men surveyed and nearly three-fourths of the women reported having had traumatic brain injury, generally occurring early in life. Researchers, coordinated by MUSC, interviewed more than 600 adults who have been in the state prison system.
Their results recently were published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
MUSC researchers Pamela Ferguson, from left, Abby Teklehalmanot, Monica Cornelius and Elisabeth Pickelsimer are studying traumatic brain injuries among South Carolina's prisoners. photo by Wade Spees, The Post and Courier
The study's local authors — Elisabeth Pickelsimer and Pamela Ferguson, an MUSC epidemiologist and research director, respectively — said they hope the findings will "reduce the revolving door of prison re-entry and increase the offenders' potential for a successful return back into their communities."
A spokesman for the S.C. Department of Corrections said the system's physicians were unavailable to comment on the study last week.
The authors believe identifying and treating South Carolina prisoners with histories of traumatic brain injury could reduce the rate of recidivism in that population. That rate, however, was not yet available for comparison with the overall rate of recidivism.
Traumatic brain injury can result in an array of mental health issues, including substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Given the prevalence of the condition, prisons have become "mental health facilities without appropriate funding for mental health treatment," Pickelsimer said.
Proper treatment could help prevent behavior problems among prisoners and could improve their level of productivity and success after being released.
Beyond improved treatment, the authors suggest new training for prison staff on handling inmates with histories of traumatic brain injury.
"Without a clear understanding of how (traumatic brain injury) may impact a person, prison officials may be misled to believe that the offender is deliberately defiant," according to the study.
Editor's note: This article ran in the Sept. 11 issue of The Post and Courier and is reprinted with permission.