Where To Find Brain Damaged Babies

Come on, you know where this is going.  Via Newsday:

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City’s jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that’s the latest in a growing body of research documenting head trauma among young offenders.

Experts say the findings, published this week in The Journal of Adolescent Health, could lead to better training for correction officers on how to deal with the possible symptoms of such trauma, which include problems with impulse control and decision-making.

To those of us whose job it is to defend these youths, this comes as little surprise.  We talk to them, listen to them, watch them and shake our heads as they walk away.  We see the lack of impulse control.  We hear how an astoundingly poor choice is made at a critical juncture.  And there they are, in a meeting with a criminal defense lawyer.

Not all young people find themselves in lockup because of traumatic brain injury. The study says half, and that sounds about right, but fails to explain the other half.  My highly scientific anecdotal experience is that the other half is there for lack of “apparent” better options and really awful role models.

The comments to the Newsday article are a nightmare.  Most reflect a knee-jerk reaction like this:

The shrinks and lawyers are always looking for a way to absolve bad behavior in people and blame it on a medical condition. Evert time a child acts up, the shrinks will blame it on a mental condition and medicate the child into a zombie.

Or this:

Is there always an excuse for the criminal. This is what society has taught us. Always find a way to blame others and society for the poor criminal. When is society going to say, take responsibility for your own actions and suffer the consequences.

And if a child gets cancer, it’s the oncologist’s fault.  Any why won’t those damn blind kids see, for crying out loud?  Just take responsibility and look harder.

In contrast, the New York Times editorial goes the soft route:

It is a mistake to assume that all children held in juvenile facilities represent “hard cases” beyond redemption. Indeed, a new study, by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta, shows that nearly two-thirds of the young people who were confined in 2010 were confined for nonviolent offenses.

Moreover, disproportionate numbers of these young people have special needs. Federal data from 2010 show that 30 percent had learning disabilities, 45 percent had problems paying attention and 30 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse. It should come as no surprise that most of the young people entering juvenile residential institutions are behind in reading and math.

This juxtaposition of a hard explanation and mushiness explains the angry reactions to the study reflecting the prevalence of traumatic brain injury among the juvenile prison population.  It’s not that the statistics quoted in the Times’ editorial are wrong, but that they feed into the reaction that this is all bullshit, causing a great many, perhaps the majority, to reject any explanation short of personal responsibility.

They’re criminals! Hey, I sucked in school and I didn’t become a criminal. So if I turned out to be a law-abiding citizen (and let’s not talk about my drunk driving, pot smoking, tax cheating, wife beating ways), so should they!!!

[Ed. note: for those who may be unclear, this is not a quote, but a snarky aside.] 

The significance of both the Newsday article and the Times editorial is that there are reasons why these things happen, that children act impulsively and make poor decisions that violate criminal laws.  This means there are ways to head this off at the pass, and ways to deal with them afterward that might be a whole lot more effective at bringing them back to us as law-abiding citizens rather than the mythical child-predators.

But society won’t use them, won’t admit that there is a problem that needs fixing, as long as we have a simplistic explanation that makes saving the children impossible and absolves us of any responsibility to do better. They’re criminals!!!

The Times editorial concludes with an admonition:

Most important, however, the states need to redefine the mission of their juvenile justice systems. That means refocusing from warehousing and punishing juveniles to a much more positive mission: educating troubled youths who typically suffer from an array of psychological and educational challenges.

While the point is true, the mushy language strikes me as the very sort that makes ordinary folks’ heads explode.

Pander to the child criminal? I pay a fortune in school tax to get my kid educated, and they want to give child-predators Cadillac services?  How about we just beat them to a pulp and make sure they know that if they do it again, they get beaten again. Just like my pappy used to do.

[Ed. Note: Another snarky aside. Not a quote.]

If the upshot is that the input to our juvenile prisons comes out worse for it, and that we have the means to recognize the problem and fix it, why not do so?  The answer is because we make people pretty damned angry by couching solutions in terms of touchy-feely, do-gooder liberalistic rhetoric.

An argument can be made that one solution is to teach all the morons why their knee-jerk hatred of criminal kids is wrong, and it might work after a few thousand years of indoctrination and metacognitive elevation. But it’s unlikely that the kids who need help now can wait that long.  If, on the other hand, we lighten up on the vague rhetoric that’s so appealing to those inclined to care about these issues, and focus instead on the pervasive evidence of traumatic brain injury, maybe we can save a lot of children from lives of misery in prison.

They will still suffer from lack of impulse control and poor decision-making, but with a bit of appropriate help, they won’t have to do so in prison, and, if you need a more personal reason to support the concept, it won’t be your house they break into. See? It’s good for the morons too.

16 comments on “Where To Find Brain Damaged Babies

  1. kerry

    Through out my life I have had to deal with a TBI. Took me 45 years to learn of it, 45 years of poor decisions. (Only one night in jail, though, but only because I’m white, relatively affluent, and a quick talker. Were I of a darker skin tone and a lower income bracket I could well be writing this from prison. ) Eventually I ended up in a psych office (thank you VA) learned the truth that I was not like everyone else and needed to work on my impulse control and thought processes and use a bit of chemical help. I am convinced that had this understanding occurred in my younger life I would have made much better decisions and been a much happier and more productive person.

    My point is that most of these children with TBI probably have no idea of TBI and how it affects life for them. Many of them, like me, once told of the situation will modify their behavior. However, someone must care enough to get the message through and that is where society falls down in dealing with this problem in my opinion. No one seems to want to support taking the time for mental help; no money.

    Surely it would be less expensive to modify this problem at the beginning but in our current society it’s better to pack for profit prisons than pay to help poor struggling kids.

    No profit in it, so we just call them criminals.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sorry to hear. I don’t know whether it’s a consolation that you eventually found out, or a smack that, had you found out much earlier, you could have had a very different life. And the people here who think humans are disposable want to know why I’m intolerant of their stupidity. You are why.

  2. John Barleycorn

    I dunno…

    It would be interesting to see this research overlaid with the pre-primary early childhood educational environment these children experienced when a whole shit load of delicate things get locked in, overlapped with children who have also experienced serious “traumatic brain injury” whom have seemingly no excessive issues with juvenile lock up.

    And they told us bicycle helmets would save the world… Them fucking lying bastards.

    Speaking of brains, research like this is very susceptible to false correlation.

    I also have a bold prediction. The 2029 study Children Incarcerated will nearly be able to prove that brain chemistry is a geological wonderland that is full of magical little locks and keys and certain environmental conditions as well as traumatic events can fuck that playground up forevermore in an unrecoverable fashion
    if the “table is not set and welcoming” early on.

    Bring back the big wheels and cap guns god damnit and let them run wild and barefoot in the streets until suppertime.

    1. SHG Post author

      Bring back the big wheels and cap guns god damnit and let them run wild and barefoot in the streets until suppertime.

      Amen. I’ve got nothing against bike helmets and playgrounds on rubber instead of asphalt, but they need to skin a knee (but not get the brains splashed across the pavement). Every time someone comes up with a new idea for the perfect world for children, an angel spills tomato sauce on their tunic.

  3. RAFIV

    Juvenile Court attorneys are society’s [expletive deleted] janitors. They clean up the mess schools, parents and society make of children. Sadly, it isn’t just TBI – although that is the diagnosis du jour – it is the terrifying rate of undiagnosed mental illness among delinquency defendants and children subject to state intervention child welfare proceedings.

    How many times has the attorney of record been the first damn person to suspect that a child may suffer from a mental illness? How many times have juvenile attorneys requested court clinic evaluations because the child hears voices or can’t sleep at night because “the ghosts keep poking” him? This is not finding a loophole to excuse destructive behavior, it is social triage. It is a Band-Aid trying to stop a bleeding artery in the desperate hope that a child can be saved from a future which holds nothing but a revolving door of prison, substance abuse, and self-destruction. But those that write these kids off shouldn’t worry. Many of these children will drown and the only person who sees it will be their counsel and the courts.

    Sorry for the rant and poor grammar.

    1. SHG Post author

      So it appears I touched on a nerve and you let it out. That’s good. It’s not just juvenile court attorneys.

    2. John Barleycorn

      Rants are good RAF-(bring on the IV).

      I would put substances in the category of self-medication but I am definitely rolling with Social Triage.

      Fuck the Merry-Go-Round.

      It doesn’t have to be “what it is” or “as it is”.


  4. Onlooker

    If society would stop beating (spanking, hitting, call it what you want) our children we’d have a much mentally healthier society, period. The challenge is in breaking the cycle; and teaching people how to relate to their kids and teach them without the mindless shortcut of whacking them.

    1. SHG Post author

      Because the last 2000+ years of parents spanking children destroyed the mental health of society? I’m no fan of hitting children, but ordinary parental spanking is not a cause of TBI or mental illness. You may not like it, though it’s unclear that it isn’t an effective means of discipline within limited parameters, but it isn’t related to the problem discussed here.

    2. John Barleycorn

      Don’t worry about our esteemed host Onlooker.

      He’s just a curmudgeon with a stomach of coal.

      Rumor has it he shits turds that will boil toilet water all day long even if he rembers to flush. It doesn’t make life “easier” but the wiping is certailialy easier if you can stand the steam.

      But anyway, if you just can’t spank and seeing as how our esteemed host was going with anecdotal easy peasy in another post recently I will leave you with this:

      If you and the misses get yourself a few mean goats your kids will learn a lot and they will have a field day when the cousins come to visit from the “city”.

      Plus you can always insist your deviant child of the day go feed the goats the leftovers (after dark is best) he/she sulked over all through supper because they pissed you and or society off for good reason earlier that day.

      Goats taste good too and the last time I checked you can’t eat your kids or grandchildren even if you did feed them fuckers until maturity.

      Goats graze cheep, kids are just fun.

  5. anonymouse

    Just scare the rascals into a plea deal. That way, the lawyer gets paid, the prosecutor gets another notch,
    and the next client who can afford to pay for legal help will maybe get a better deal from the DA’s office.

  6. Konrad

    A masterpiece of clarity, thanks to the author’s expert use of colons preceding block quotes.
    – Oliver Strunk’s Blog Review

      1. Konrad

        I mean that you made it easy to distinguish the snarky asides from the quotations, even without referring to the helpful editor’s notes. Mostly because each quote was preceded by a statement identifying the source you were quoting (and ending with a colon).

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