A habitual prisoner in the Denver County Jail looked at Christina Aegerter and told her that whenever he’s released, he starts using drugs, gets in trouble and ends up right back behind bars. A fourth-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), Aegerter had a good hunch why the inmate kept landing back in jail: traumatic brain injury (TBI). When the prisoner was 18 years old, a truck hit him, tossing him 50 feet into the air. At age 25, he was mugged and hit in the back of the head with a tire iron.
Kim Gorgens, an associate professor at GSPP who helped create the program, says that when her students interviewed 80 inmates during the summers of 2013 and 2014, they expected they’d find above-average prevalence of brain trauma among prisoners. When they saw the actual numbers, however, even they were stunned: 96 percent had a TBI. The national average for prisoners is about 74 percent; the number is just 7 percent for the general population.