Lawmakers Consider Neurotherapy for Inmates

— By Dwight F. Blint, Courant Staff Writer. 

Lawmakers are considering use of an unconventional treatment program to improve the behavior of Connecticut prison inmates.

The program, called Neurotherapy, is a method for improving the functioning of the brain, by employing a method similar to biofeedback. It is most commonly used on children with learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorders – problems common to many inmates.

The treatment involves electronically mapping the brain for deficiencies and then using therapy and electronic monitoring of brain activity to help compensate for such neurological shortcomings.

Biofeedback involves using monitoring devices to teach people how to control automatic body functions such as blood pressure and heart rate.

State Rep. Lenny Winkler, who is sponsoring the bill, said she hopes the voluntary treatment will reduce recidivism.

She said she learned about the benefits of the treatment during her involvement with legislation meant to ban school teachers from recommending psychotropic drugs for children.

Many children who received neurotherapy treatments are able to stop taking medication, and a number of states, including Virginia, Delaware and Colorado, are considering the treatment for their inmates, she said. “I thought it was certainly worth looking at,” Winkler said.

The treatment is not commonly used, because most insurance providers would rather have patients on medication, she said. Back to top

Clinical neuropsychologist Jonathan F. Michaelis, who testified before the judiciary committee Monday, said inmates would benefit because many have attention-deficit and related disorders.

Many people with these disorders also abuse drugs, because they are prone to self-medicating, he said. He said the problem is that inmates are usually treated for their chemical dependencies, but not for underlying disorders. He said studies have shown that inmates who receive the treatment are significantly less likely to abuse drugs and return to prison.

“If you can improve the functioning of the brain, you can get an improved functioning of the human being,” Michaelis said.

But not everyone is convinced. Correction officials and the office of the chief public defender both oppose the measure. Correction officials say that they acknowledge the validity of the treatment, but are concerned about the cost and its effectiveness compared to other treatment options.

Winkler said it costs about $350,000 to treat 40 people. “There is no evidence that it may benefit our offender population as a whole,” said Christina Polce, a spokeswoman for the Department of Correction.

Aside from questions about the effectiveness of the treatment, Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, who works for the public defender’s office, wrote a letter to the committee that she had concerns about the confidentiality of the brain mapping images, and whether it could be used against the inmate in legal proceedings or by an insurance provider to deny medical coverage.

Michaelis said the maps, which show areas of inactivity in the brain, cannot be used to determine
personality traits or existing medical problems. Inmates also cannot use it to defend their behavior. It only helps to guide a counselor to develop a method of treatment. “The technology is not capable of showing dangerousness,” Michaelis said.

Copyright 2003, Hartford Courant