Purpose: To investigate the prevalence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among young incarcerated males and determine the extent of deficits in behavioural regulation, aggression, hopelessness, and perceived social support, compared to a control group of non-incarcerated males.
Methods: Sixty-two young offenders and 58 university-based, gender-matched controls agreed to take part. We collected information on criminal history, risk taking behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness. In addition, we employed measures of brain injury, hopelessness, behavioural regulation, aggression, and perceived social support.
Results: Just over 87% (n = 54) of offenders exhibited some level of TBI with over 31% (n = 17) reporting six or more injuries. Offenders with TBI exhibited poorer behavioural control (p < 0.001; M = 66.01 vs. M = 51.33; 95% CI –19.08 to –11.76), higher levels of aggression (p < 0.001; M = 101.19 vs. M = 69.39; 95% CI –38.31 to –27.17), and higher levels of hopelessness (p < 0.001; M = 5.65 vs. M = 2.55) when compared to controls with TBI. Severity of TBI correlated positively with behavioural regulation, aggression, and hopelessness.
Conclusions: Greater recognition of the presence and consequences of TBI within the custodial estate is necessary if the needs of young offenders are to be adequately met. Young offenders with TBI experience heightened vulnerability and need rehabilitative input to support their time in prison and on their return to society.
Implications for rehabilitation
The presence of TBI is under reported within offending populations, with many young offenders lacking awareness of their injury or its implications on their health and behaviour.
Healthcare staff within the custodial estate should be trained to screen and assess cognitive, behavioural and emotional deficits which have arisen following TBI.
Greater recognition of TBI within the custodial estate could improve the targeting of deficits and lead to rehabilitation programmes which address behavioural regulation difficulties.
Rehabilitation of TBI deficits within, and on release from prison, has the potential to help reduce recidivism, leading to reduced costs for the criminal justice system and improved quality of life for young men.