(COLORADO SPRINGS) — In accordance with Brain Injury Awareness Month, the state is launching a new program to help identify individuals in the justice system who are struggling with brain injuries and implement proper care.

“So this is the brain injury screening program and it’s a really unique program,” Denver FIRST Program Director, Dr. Jennifer McMahon, said. “It’s the first of its kind across the country, to our knowledge. And it essentially is looking at individuals who have a potential for a history of brain injury and being able to provide them with the screening for the brain injury, identifying that impairment.”

The program is done in partnership with Colorado’s Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health and University of Denver’s Forensic Institute for Research, Service, and Training (Denver FIRST).

Back in 2011, the Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS) was sued for failing to provide competency evaluations on individuals in jail and provide restoration treatment.

“So currently the state is being sued by the disability law of Colorado because of the number of people waiting,” Director of the Office for Civil and Forensic Mental Health, Leora Joseph, said. “They’re in jail. They’ve yet to be adjudicated. So they’re innocent under the law. They’ve been determined to be incompetent to proceed in their trial. They can’t participate in the trial. So the justice system puts a pause on the entire case.”

The initiative behind this new program is to help combat the need for proper care of people in the justice system.

“When we think about how we treat people as individuals, we need to understand ‘what is the diagnosis here, what is the root cause and how do we restore them to competence’,” Joseph said. “Maybe that needs to look different for everybody. And this might be a distinct group of people that would benefit from looking at this problem in a different way.”

The program would work to first identify the individuals who may have some sort of history of a brain injury or may be exhibiting signs of having a brain injury. Then, screening would take place to determine what is the best treatment for the individual.

“Once we identify those folks, then we do a brain injury screening that involves a bunch of different psychological measures to get a better understanding of what their barriers might be, not just to competency restoration,” McMahon said. “But in general, like if they are to transition into the community, what are some of the services that would best support their transition and help reduce recidivism.”

Another goal of the program is to help those individuals who may need specific brain injury treatment when getting out of the criminal justice system.

“From some of the outcomes that we know of, folks who have brain injuries have a more difficult time transitioning into the community because they don’t necessarily have the support that they need to kind of maintain some of those different aspects of their day-to-day that could be more challenging based on their injury,” said McMahon.

Joseph shared her hopes for this new program – helping those struggling with their mental health in prisons receive proper care.

“Also my goal is for them, for this project to identify better ways to treat people with brain injuries,” Joseph said. “And then maybe we can go to the court and say to the judge, ‘Judge, this person doesn’t need to be in jail and they don’t need to be in the state hospital either. Let’s find this arrangement for them’.”

The brain injury program will also work to provide individuals with community programs that specialize in brain injury programs and promote education on brain injury.

“And one really novel aspect of it is providing education and capacity building for those individuals to aid them in kind of moving through the system in a more efficient and supportive manner so that they can hopefully have their case resolved and move forward within the system,” said McMahon.

The program will be funded for two years with a total of $948,729 and the goal to serve 400 individuals.

In Colorado Springs, Linda Draayers helps support those who are suffering from a brain injury through the organization BrainCare.

“It’s very critical because we see people with brain injuries from all different walks,” Draayers said. “You know, we serve individuals who are homeless. We have served individuals that have had concerns with the judicial system. You know, we serve individuals that are in school that have had injuries that just don’t realize, you know, how it’s affecting them and their ability to learn and relate to others.”

BrainCare serves as an assisted living facility with homes throughout Southern Colorado.

“Braincare has actually been in the Springs for almost 25 years and serving individuals specifically with brain injury,” Draayers said. “We just recently, in the past year… expanded to Pueblo as well. So, we continue to grow and it’s exciting.”

Inside one of the BrainCare assisted living homes on Tuesday afternoon.

For those interested in learning more about the services BrainCare offers, you can find out more on their website. Draayers emphasized the importance of being aware of brain injuries and the need to provide proper care for these individuals.

“Well as we consider the brain the focal point of the body, you know, your brain is, is what controls all other aspects of who you are,” Draayers said. “And so it is so critically important to protect the brain. And so much can happen when you injure the brain, so many different facets of how you can be affected.”