A groundbreaking new study involving adolescent male and female inmates incarcerated at Rikers Island has uncovered some shocking news. These inmates suffer much higher rates of traumatic brain injury (sometimes called TBI) than the general population. After extensive medical examinations, doctors have concluded that roughly 50% of the male population inside the prison at any given time has suffered at least one traumatic brain injury (such as concussion). Female inmates were found to have even higher rates that peaked at 65%. When compared to the general population’s TBI rate of just 8.5%, there is clearly an issue that law enforcement, corrections, and other legal personnel have been unaware of for decades.
The study conducted by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), began in 2012 and encompassed nearly 450 of the 1,000 adolescent inmates incarcerated at the facility. While doctors were able to determine that many of the injuries had occurred outside the prison (though not all), there are still wide reaching implications for the civil rights of inmates under the supervision of the corrections system.
People suffering from TBI can exhibit a host of mental problems including “emotional dysregulation” and significant mental impairment. As Dr. Homer Venters, assistant commissioner of the City’s Correctional Health Services, says: “this means you can’t control your emotions and you can’t follow directions. These are two very serious complications for people who find themselves in jail.”
While many corrections officers may see outbursts or the failure to comply with orders as a symptom of the inmate’s personality or as a sign of disobedience, a deeper mental illness may be responsible at least in some of these incidents. This could potentially lead to inmate assault cases involving corrections officers who either intentionally or unintentionally violate the civil rights of their temporary wards. In fact, Dr. Venters took the time to point out that a number of the inmates who had already broken the prison’s rules did indeed test positive for TBI.
As yet, Rikers Island has been slow to adapt to the information as other states have jumped at the chance to examine the issue in more detail and revise internal policies at their prison facilities to accommodate individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury. However, according to a report released by the Council of State Governments, “health officials appear intent on using the results of their screening to begin educational programs that inform both the incarcerated and Department of Correction staff about effects of head injuries.”
If you or a loved one has been incarcerated at Rikers Island and has been assaulted and injured by corrections officers because of an illness, injury, or mental health, call the experienced New York City Civil rights attorney at the Law Offices of Nussin S. Fogel at (800) 734-938 or (212) 385-1122 to learn your rights.