Bill Aims to Decrease Incarceration Rates by Capturing & Treating More Undiagnosed Cases
By a vote of 53-15-6, the full Assembly has approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin, Gabriela Mosquera and Daniel Benson to identify at-risk children and young adults with brain injuries in cooperation with the state’s mental health and juvenile justice systems.
The lawmakers noted that a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicated that half of all 16- to 18-year-olds in New York City’s jails said they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most of which were caused by assaults.
“Many times brain injuries are misdiagnosed or even undiagnosed because a victim might not show immediate or obvious signs of injury,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “These injuries can eventually manifest themselves as aggression or violent behavior if not treated properly. If we can increase awareness and diagnoses, then hopefully we can get treatment for those in need to help avoid incarceration and other negative consequences down the line.”
“For many reasons, traumatic brain injuries in youths often go undetected, especially if it’s a younger child who can’t communicate their needs that well yet,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “Rather than sentencing these young people to a perpetual cycle of incarceration or run-ins with the law, let’s get them the treatment they need to deal with certain behaviors that may be beyond their control.”
Specifically, the bill (A-3453) directs the existing brain injury screening and education program in the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) to identify children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 21 with traumatic brain injuries who are involved, or who may be at risk of involvement, with the state’s mental health or juvenile justice systems.
“This bill will create an additional safety net to help catch and treat at-risk youth with brain injuries,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The goal is to help get them the treatment they need so they don’t slip through the cracks and end up in the juvenile justice system, squandering their potential.”
“The consequences of not identifying brain injuries early in a child can be enormous and long-lasting,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Identifying them early can improve their education, minimize societal risks and boost their long-term outcome in life.”
Once identified, the program would provide education, raise awareness and promote outreach to parents, guardians and a myriad of relevant stakeholders about traumatic brain injuries in children and young adults and the availability of treatment services and rehabilitative programs geared to their specific needs.
Under the bill, the Commissioner of DCF, in consultation with the New Jersey Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council, shall implement:
§ a reliable and validated standardized screening tool and structured interviews to assess prior history of brain injury to be conducted by individuals with a foundational knowledge of brain injury, along with training and consultancy for a wide variety of relevant stakeholders, including, but not limited to, educators, judges, and psychiatric professionals;
– measures to increase awareness of, and education on, traumatic brain injuries in children and young adults, including information on the links between traumatic brain injury, juvenile delinquency, and the early onset of psychiatric diagnoses, the value of early detection, and the treatment services and rehabilitative programs available to children and young adults;
– outreach strategies to disseminate information about traumatic brain injuries and the treatment services and rehabilitative programs available to children and young adults through a variety of entities; and
– guidelines for a more detailed assessment, along with information and resources would be made available to parents and guardians following positive screening of a prior history of brain injury.
The bill also direct the Commissioner of DCF to apply for and accept any grant money from the federal government, private foundations, or other sources, which may be available for programs for children and young adults with traumatic brain injury.
Finally, the Commissioner of DCF, in consultation with the council, would annually report to the Governor and the Legislature, no later than 12 months after the effective date of the bill, on the activities of the screening program and the program’s effectiveness in meeting its objectives.
The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.