Colorado runs a legal literacy program for people with brain injuries

Marchell Taylor Sr., 54, has served 24 years in prison. He says his life spiraled out of control after a car accident at the age of nine. He hit his head on the dashboard.

“Got my eye wide open,” Taylor said.

He too had a difficult childhood.

“Growing up in less-than-valuable environments — environments of domestic violence, drugs, alcohol — that definitely rewires a person, a kid’s brain,” Taylor said.

Taylor turned to drugs and violence not long after.

“I have seven crimes,” he said.

Taylor has been in and out of prison. Then he got help through a program at Denver County Jail.

“They say, ‘You have a TBI, prefrontal cortex damage.’ They did a screening and full evaluation, and it changed my life forever,” he said.

While Taylor has been involved with another program, he is a supporter of a new pilot program just started by the Colorado Office of Civil and Forensic Health in partnership with the University of Denver’s Forensic Institute for Research, Service and Training.

“This project is exactly one of those projects that allows us to focus on patients in the competency system, patients who are involved in the criminal justice system but may have suffered a serious brain injury that is exacerbating their mental illness and their ability to participate an aggravated criminal process,” said Director of Civil and Forensic Mental Health Leora Joseph.

For comparison, the state treats nearly 6,000 patients a year who are considered incompetent within the criminal justice system, according to Joseph. At the moment there is no data on how many of these patients have a brain injury. Obtaining this data is a goal of the program.

“Our clinicians are going to do an interview with the person, a clinical interview,” said Dr. Jennifer McMahon, program director at DU’s Forensic Institute for Research, Service and Training. “Then our clinicians will run a series of tests specifically designed to identify brain injury and the symptoms associated with brain injury and to be able to really identify some of the deficits and strengths to help leverage the resources.” that are best for the individual.”

According to McMahon, the group hopes to serve around 400 people during the two-year pilot. The aim is to make them able to act again for a court hearing and to prevent them from committing another crime.

“Doing this program was long overdue. It might even open Pandora’s box,” Taylor said.

Funding for this pilot comes from the Colorado Competency Fines Committee. The State Department of Human Services hopes the program can eliminate the competency service waiting list and become a national model.

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