12 September 2018
Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, the Brain Injury Association said that anecdotal evidence showed a large number of people in the criminal justice system had suffered a brain injury at some point, which can change behaviour and leave them vulnerable.
Speaking at the Police Federation of England and Wales’ National Custody Seminar on 12 September, Mr McCabe said that symptoms of surviving a brain injury included swaying when walking and slurred speech, which can be mistaken for the person being drunk. He said survivors often experienced angry outbursts and had difficulty reasoning, leaving them vulnerable.
Headway has launched an identity card for brain injury survivors to show when they encounter police and other agencies. The card is part of the organisation’s Justice Project, which aims to raise awareness of brain injury within the criminal justice system and ensure that people who have brain injuries are identified at the earliest possible opportunity, so they receive appropriate support. It highlights that the holder has a brain injury and lists their symptoms, to eradicate confusion and flag that the person is vulnerable.
“We aim to get to the point where a person’s brain injury is taken into account by everybody in the criminal justice system,” Mr McCabe said. “We recognise that survivors committing serious crimes should face the consequences – this card isn’t a get out of jail free card. But we believe those who are dealing with them should be fully aware of their deficits when they are making key decisions.”
Mr McCabe said that the information on each person’s card was clinically verified to give credibility and avoid misuse, and that Headway was working with agencies including the National Police Chiefs’ Council, NHS England and the Crown Prosecution Service to raise awareness of the effects of a brain injury.
“You (the police) have such limited resources, the last thing you need is to be working out whether someone is just being difficult or awkward, or whether that person is vulnerable and needs to be treated appropriately,” he said.
He added: “People are saying these cards have given them the confidence to go out. If they do run into problems they just pull their card out and it helps explain things.”
Mr McCabe said the card is currently being rolled out and that there was “work to do” to ensure all forces and criminal justice agencies were aware of it.