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Supporting Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury in the Ontario Criminal Justice System; Building Bridges and Creating Integrated Approaches to Care with the John Howard Society of Toronto: A Pilot Study

Supporting Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury in the Ontario Criminal Justice System; Building Bridges and Creating Integrated Approaches to Care with the John Howard Society of Toronto: A Pilot Study

Primary Investigator (PI): Flora Matheson

Project Team: Catherine Wiseman-Hakes; Madison Ford


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is highly prevalent among people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. Approximately 80% of incarcerated adults have a reported history of TBI, and for youth the rate is estimated from 16-72%. A history of TBI also increases recidivism by 69%.

TBI can result in a number of cognitive, communication and behavioral challenges that in the context of the criminal justice system, are often misinterpreted as defiance, rudeness, disengagement, substance use or non-compliance. This is not surprising given that most staff in the justice system do not have training in TBI and thus lack the knowledge and skills to recognize, or adequately manage these challenges.

The John Howard Society of Toronto (JHS-T) is a non-profit organization committed to providing and developing programs that reduce the social, economic and personal costs of crime. JHS-T is dedicated to helping those who have been in conflict with the law and making communities safer by delivering individualized, integrated support and empowering those in conflict with the law to achieve positive change through service, education and community programs. Many of the JHS-T’s clients have a history of suspected or diagnosed TBI, however JHS-T currently lacks the expertise to support these individuals.

The recommended evidence-based approach involves an emphasis on training frontline staff regarding TBI, as well as the implementation of proper identification, assessment and support. This can result in better outcomes for people with TBI in the criminal justice system in regard to community re-entry, and justice re-involvement.

To address the need for staff training on evidence-based practices, this research aims to;

  • Develop and pilot a formal education and training program regarding TBI for all JHS-Toronto front-line staff.
  • Implement a routine screening process for TBI that JHS-Toronto will use with clients.
  • Develop and train staff on the use of evidence-based strategies to support and work effectively with TBI clients.
  • Create a network of collaborative care for JHS-T clients with TBI with the ABI-LHIN Navigator, the Acquired Brain Injury Network, and the Brain Injury Association of Toronto.
  • Findings from this pilot project will inform processes and a plan for scale up across the province of Ontario.

CORPORATE ANNOUNCEMENT – February 2021(Click to learn more)
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