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Addressing the needs of youth with TBI in the Ontario Youth Criminal Justice System: Creating an implementation process for TBI screening

Addressing the needs of youth with TBI in the Ontario Youth Criminal Justice System: Creating an implementation process for TBI screening

Co-Primary Investigators (PI): Lyn Turkstra & Catherine Wiseman-Hakes

Project Team: Matthew Eaton-Kent, J.D. Eaton-Kent Law; Karen Tinning and Chris Podolinsky, Probation and Parole Officers Association of Ontario; Katie Almond, Human Services Justice Coordinating Committee; Marla Banning, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; Katherine Marshall; Kaitlyn Whelan

Summer Students: Sukhman Baath; Zoe Sinkins


Youth with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are over-represented in the Youth Criminal Justice System internationally. Approximately 50% of youth charged with an offence have a documented history of TBI, and an estimated 30% of incarcerated youths are reported to have a pre-incarceration history of TBI. TBI also is liked to negative consequences during and after involvement in youth criminal justice, such as increased behavioural problems while in custody, higher recidivism rates and poorer educational attainment; and increased risk of developing mental health problems.

Youth with TBI are at high risk for cognitive and communication problems which can have major negative consequences for youth at all stages of the criminal justice procedures and beyond (e.g., in recidivism rates). Every stage of criminal justice involvement involves complex social interactions that typically require high-level and fast-paced processing of information, understanding, and responding – from interactions with police, front-line workers, and probation and parole officers; to formal proceedings such as hearings and trials; to participation in extrajudicial programs.

Two critical steps in meeting needs of youth with TBI in the context of the criminal justice system are: 1) screening for TBI early in the process, to identify appropriate referrals, accommodations, and communication strategies; and 2) education and of front-line personnel about common cognitive and communication sequelae of TBI and, how to best to ensure that youth with TBI can fully understand and participate in all aspects of the criminal justice process and extrajudicial measures. These steps are consistent with the goals of the Youth Justice Act. The Niagara Youth Court (Mental Health) Screening Initiative (NYCSI) will serve as the model for our project.

To address these gaps, this demonstration project aims to inform Ontario Youth Criminal Justice policy and procedures to more effectively address the needs of youth with TBI. To achieve this, we will:

  • Develop a network of relevant stakeholders
  • Identify a TBI screening measure.
  • Complete a step-by-step guide for implementation of TBI screening.
  • Identify policy and legislative changes that will be needed to implement screening.
  • Develop and pilot training for Youth Mental Health Court Workers, Probation Officers and Crown Attorney’s office front-line staff.
CORPORATE ANNOUNCEMENT – February 2021(Click to learn more)
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