Traumatic Brain Injuries Linked to Criminal Behavior

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — The criminal mind is a damaged one.  A recent study by University of Exeter researchers found a high rate of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in young offenders when compared to the population as a whole.  They made a connection between TBI and a higher amount of convictions, and also discovered that offenders with three or more TBIs usually had committed more aggravated offenses.

Exeter professor and lead author of the study Huw Williams points out that TBI is a possible “marker” for risk factors such as a sensation seeking personality, poor self-care, deprivation, and a lack of quality opportunities.  Unlike non-violent young men, whose TBIs are often the result of sports or play related activities, the TBIs of young offenders are mainly the result of violence.

The study was drawn from self-reports of 197 young male participants aged 11 to 19, and gathered information about previous head injury, criminal history, mental health problems and drug use.  TBI was defined as an incident involving a severe blow to the head resulting in a loss of consciousness (LOC), and 46% of the surveyed young men reported it.  This percentage far exceeded the estimates for their surrounding societal population, which ranged from 5% to 30% depending on age.

A third of the participants indicated that they had been “knocked out” more than once in their short lives.  An accumulation of three or more TBIs was often connected to more violent offenses.  All offenders with previous TBIs were at a heightened risk for mental health problems and were more likely to abuse marijuana.

These results compare well with a study Exeter researchers conducted earlier this year on adult offenders in prison, 60% of whom reported a concussion at some point in their lives.  The participants in this study were an average of five years younger than the non-injured control group when they were first incarcerated, and also had a higher average of repeat offenses.

“Taking account of brain injury could help reduce repeat offending in those affected,” Williams was quoted as saying.  “Screening for TBI could be included in the health assessments of offenders to identify those who need more detailed assessment for providing appropriate management.”

Especially when accompanied by longer LOC, TBI is known to cause impairments of attention, memory, planning and behavior – the latter including anger and impulse control problems.  When occurring at formative ages, young TBI victims are put at an increased risk.

“Importantly, adolescence could be a critical window of opportunity for diverting young offenders at risk of injury and of further offending into non-offending lifestyles,” Williams was quoted as saying.

The University of Exeter and partners such as the United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum and The Child Brain Injury Trust have started a special interest group to raise awareness of, and clarify, the dynamics between brain injury and young criminal activity.  They hope to work with the criminal justice system to provide early screenings for adjudicated offenders, and to make rehabilitative programs available for those affected by TBIs.

SOURCE: Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, November 2010

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