The study by Prof Huw Williams, 'Repairing Shattered Lives: Brain Injury and its Implications for Criminal Justice', calls for for greater monitoring of brain injuries and treatment of these to prevent further problems.
A report by 'Transition To Adulthood Alliance', 12 charities working to evidence and promote effective approaches for young people in the transition into adulthood throughout criminal justice, shows that young people who sustain brain injuries are more likely to commit crimes and end up in prison.
The findings follow a similar report by the Children's Commissioner for England, based on evidence from the University of Exeter and the University of Birmingham, on the impact of injuries on maturing brains and the social consequences.
This report says a large number of young people in custody in England tend to have neurodevelopmental disorders, and issues which could lead to communication and learning difficulties, and emotional and behavioral problems
Brain injury is more damaging in younger people and could disrupt cognitive development. In the cases of severe injury, the brain does not fix the damage but finds new ways to work in spite of the injury, which means brain development can be disrupted in the long term.
According to the report, these disruptions could lead to an increased tendency for criminal behaviour.
The report shows that those without a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are likely to grow out of immature and antisocial behaviour by their mid-twenties, but those with TBI are likely to continue to grapple with these issues throughout young adulthood and beyond.
The evidence suggests that brain injury can be a significant variable in criminal behaviour, and should be considered when making decisions about sentencing and rehabilitation. However, at present, young people aren't screened for brain injury and are rarely treated and rehabilitation. The first contact that most young people with brain injury have with service providers is via the criminal justice system.
A survey of 200 adult male prisoners in Britain found 60% claimed to have suffered a head injury.
Prof Huw Williams, who wrote the report, said:
The young brain, being a work in progress, is prone to 'risk taking' and so is more vulnerable to getting injured in the first place, and to suffer subtle to more severe problems in attention, concentration and managing one's mood and behaviour.
It is rare that brain injury is considered by criminal justice professionals when assessing the rehabilitative needs of an offender…
Brain injury has been shown to be a condition that may increase the risk of offending, and it is also a strong 'marker' for other key factors that indicate risk for offending.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, says:
Our failure to identify neurodevelopmental disorders and put in place measures to prevent young people with such conditions from offending is a tragedy.
Although children who have neurodevelopmental disorders and/or who have suffered brain injuries may know the difference between right and wrong, they may not understand the consequences of their actions, the processes they then go through in courts or custody, nor have the means to address their behaviour to avoid reoffending.
In the criminal justice system, people over 18 years old are mature adults and are treated this way in assessing in criminal behaviour. T2A argues that this approach is at best unhelpful, at worst actually making criminal behaviour more likely in the long term.
Recent studies into post-adolescent brain development reveal that our brains continue to develop well into our 20s, in particular with more complex abilities like executive functioning and inhibition. Therefore if there has been a TBI at a young age and, this progress could be even further hindered, and therefore this should be taken into account when assessing an offender.
The Shattered Lives report puts forward strong evidence for young offenders to be screened for brain injury, and if present it should be addressed through relevant treatments and therapies when attempting rehabilitation. This approach could cut reoffending rates and eventually reduce the cost to the taxpayer of the criminal justice system.
The report says that there are many complications to be considered when proposing such a reform. For example, no two brain injuries are exactly the same, so symptoms and appropriate treatments will vary considerably between individuals.
People in the field may also not be trained to deal with young offenders are qualified or even capable of recognising the signs and consequences of brain injury.